"Are you done?" Buffy asked her sister impatiently.
Dawn looked up from her nearly empty plate. Xander and Giles eyed Buffy, who was standing next to Dawn with crossed arms and a mission in mind. The two men exchanged a look, obviously not wanting to argue with Buffy. Willow just smiled apologetically at the teenager.
"I guess so. If I develop an eating disorder, it's not gonna be my fault," Dawn said after a last spoonful.
"Great." Buffy snatched Dawn's dishes off the table, ignoring the comment. Then she turned to the gang in with a big smile on her face.
"It's 1:30 pm now," she said with a glance at her watch. "Giles and I'll pick up the tree now, Xander can do the dishes and Willow, you have the kitchen to do your cookies."
"Sugary goodness!" Willow shrieked in excitement.
"But not while you're cooking, Will, or you'll be bouncing around the house for the rest of the day. I could do without having to repair anything," Xander said dampening her enthusiasm.
"Yes, no damage please. I'll need the kitchen in one piece to fix our Christmas dinner. Alright, where was I..." Buffy glanced around as if the others knew what she was going to say. "Oh right! Tree, dishes, cookies. We should be back before 3."
"What! Do you want to grow it yourself?" Xander exclaimed.
Giles didn't say anything but his raised eyebrows showed that he was as surprised as his young friend.
"We'll want the best that they have," Buffy explained. "Not too thin or too bushy, filling the room, but not too big. The perfect Christmas tree for the perfect Christmas evening."
"I still don't see why Timmy's not good enough," Xander said, slightly miffed.
"First, I'm not having a Christmas tree named 'Timmy'. Second, I don't want a plastic tree. And third, if I hear that stupid song one more time I will slay him...it."
"But it's the Christmas Rock! 'Rocking around the Christmas tr...'" Buffy's glare stopped Dawn's song on the spot.
"We're getting a real tree," she told Xander and Dawn. She turned to Willow, "You can make cookies while we're gone. Then we put up the tree and you can decorate it while I'm with Brad."
"You have a date with Brad on Christmas Eve? How romantic." Willow sighed. "What do you think he'll get you?"
"No idea." Buffy glanced over to Giles. "He just said it's a surprise and that I should be at the greenhouses at 3."
Xander rolled his eyes. "Yeah, real romantic. Why not meet in the backseat of a car? With that little tree shaped air freshener hanging on the rearview mirror, it'll be just as good as the greenhouse."
"Xander!" Willow cried out.
"Yes, very well, Buffy," Giles said turning to her. "I believe if you want to meet Brad in time we ought to go now."
"Yeah. I shouldn't be at the greenhouse for more than an hour. I'll start making dinner at 4 pm." She pointed a stern finger towards them. "Don't touch anything."
"Gotcha. No touching whatsoever. Oh Buffy! I forgot, I found this neat little ritual on the internet. It's supposed to strengthen the bond of families and it sounds like lots of fun. We'll all hold hands and walk around a circle. You'll just have to bring back some..." Willow's voice faltered at Buffy's blank stare. "It was just an idea."
"We're already doing that Coven thing all day tomorrow. I thought this would be our own traditional family Christmas."
"But it still can be." Willow lifted her hands excitedly. "We could start our very own Christmas tradition. We could do it every year. Holiday bonding of the family."
"Yeah. Who says we have to stick to traditions? I say go with the ritualistic jig and the rockin' and rollin' Christmas tree. Hey, we could do the dance around the rockin' tree!" Xander chimed in.
"Oh yeah, sure. Why do a Christmas dinner at all? We could just head over to McDonald's and get something for the rockin' ritual," Buffy said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
"That'd be so cool." Dawn's smile froze, when she saw her sister's face.
"Fine. I don't know what you all are planning on doing today, but I'll have a perfect Christmas evening with a perfect Christmas dinner in front of a perfect Christmas tree."
"As will I," Giles offered his wholehearted support and she looked at him with a grateful smile. "As will we all," he added, with a look toward Willow, Xander and Dawn. "If we go now, we'll have enough time to find the perfect tree. We have more than enough room for Timothy..." Xander was about to correct Giles, but a look from Willow shut him up. "And I'm more than confident dinner will be perfectly delicious," he said with a meaningful look towards Dawn, who nodded. "And maybe we can listen to Willow's suggestion after dinner when we sit around the tree."
The others looked at her and Buffy finally said, "All right. So, is it still raining?"
Xander barked out a laugh. "Good one, Buff. As if it's stopped at all in the last 10 days."
She sighed and went to put on her coat.
Giles remained in the kitchen until she was gone. Fixing the gang with a stern look he said, "This really means a lot to Buffy."
"I know, Giles, but don't you think she's overdoing it just a bit?" Xander asked as he opened the fridge. "Half of the stuff in here is labeled 'Do not touch'."
"And you're not supposed to look either. It's supposed to be a surprise," Buffy said from the door putting on her rain coat. Xander quickly closed the fridge.
"Okay, okay, we won't look," Willow said, and then motioned them towards the door. "Now shoo. The air is waiting to be filled with the smell of freshly-baked cookies."
"Good luck with the sweet pollution."
Buffy and Giles left the room and Willow began bustling about the cupboards taking out ingredients.
"You know, if you're all going to mess up the kitchen, why do I have to do the dishes now? There'll just be more to clean after you cooked."
"Okay, if you don't mind doing this and all of our dirty bowls, pans and what not, I'm sure Buffy won't mind."
Xander grumbled and started filling the sink with water. Meanwhile Dawn headed for the growing pile on the table.
"Hey, do we have any food color? We could write little messages on the cookies, like 'Merry Christmas', 'Careful, I'm hot', 'Beware, Willow made me'."
Willow tried to snap Dawn with a towel but she danced out of the way just in time.
"Ouch!" Xander called out, the innocent victim of Dawn's evasion.
"It was her," the girls said at once, pointing at each other.
"I'll just have to punish you both then." He put a thumb on the faucet and the water started spraying all over them and the table.
Outside, Ethan could hear the faint sound of Dawn's happy shrieking. The rain was running down his face, but he smiled.
"So much energy," he whispered to himself. "Best not to waste it."
His smile turned into a wide grin.