Five futures Tara never had.
Rating/Warnings: Mostly PG, mild R for section 2
Disclaimer: Not mine. We all know that.
A/N Thanks & hugs to my beta desoto_hia873
1. Old Traditions - Buffy
Buffy approached Christmas in the same way that she did everything else, from slaying to shopping to sex; with 110% commitment and a steely, brook-no-argument conviction that it would go right.
Tara watched her tackle present-buying, decoration-hanging and potato-peeling with unflagging energy and a permanent smile, and marvelled quietly. It was exhausting and endearing in equal measure; she'd never seen someone so absolutely determined to make an occasion perfect. Well, not since Thanksgiving, anyway.
If she was honest, Tara would have loved a quiet day just as much as the Great Party. A slow, lazy day in their own apartment - just the two of them, getting up late and having hot buttered toast for breakfast and opening presents in their pyjamas. Snuggling by the fire and shutting the door against the cold of the English winter. Shutting the door against the vampires, the demons and the responsibilities that went with them.
Just for a while.
But Buffy loved the big gathering; loved to transform Giles's draughty old house into a bright, sparkly wonderland and play hostess. And Tara had to admit, it was nice to see Dawn, and Xander and Anya and the kids - they always made an effort, no matter where in the world - or out of it - they were. Anya's import/export business was doing fantastically well, and you could guarantee there'd be an array of amazing presents under the tree. Usually with price tags, but Xander had almost broken Anya of that.
Sometimes Buffy would allow the kids to have a mock vamp-hunt in the garden on Christmas Eve, which usually involved home-made candy stakes, Xander in plastic fangs and a lecture from Giles about the dangers of making a game out of a deadly and sacred calling. And then Xander would roll his eyes and mutter about lost senses of humour, and Buffy would insist on turning the hunt into a carol-singing fest instead.
The kids would sing lustily if tunelessly, and then queue up to impress Uncle Rupert with laboriously-recited lists of How To Deal With Real Vampires (condensed version: wear a cross, don't invite them in, run and get Mommy or Daddy). When they were done, Giles would pat them awkwardly on the head and tell them they were good boys really, and Dawn would put them to bed and they'd all retire in front of the fire with glasses of good mulled wine and spiced cider.
Everyone would admire the decorations and Buffy would relate, almost as laboriously as the kids, stories about how so many Christmas traditions were really pagan in origin. She'd beam proudly at Tara, who would smile and nod and love her with a bright fierceness that still took her breath away.
They'd relax for a while, spend a couple of hours catching up on each other's news, and then exchange a single gift before settling in for an early night - the kids were always up and bouncing at an unearthly hour of the morning. Last year, Buffy had given Tara a beautiful diamond eternity ring, which had never left her finger since.
So yes, while a quiet day together would be nice, the big celebration certainly had its compensations. Most of all, though, it made Buffy happy. And that was the best present Tara could ever have.
2. New Traditions - Faith
She woke up with a start, because the bed was shaking. She gasped and tried to sit up, then realised that she couldn't because a very awake, very naked Faith was sitting astride her and bouncing up and down.
"C'mon, sleepyhead," Faith said, grinning. "It's Christmas morning. Time for all good - " she paused, the grin widening as she pulled down the sheet that covered Tara's body - "/and/ naughty little girls to be up and about and opening presents."
She leant back, tossing her hair over her shoulder and running her hands over her breasts. "Oh, hey, look - seems like yours is unwrapped already."
Tara gave a little squeak, her eyes flying to the open, unshuttered windows, and Faith laughed. "Damn. I'm really never going to make an exhibitionist of you, am I? Hon, that travel agent really wasn't joking about the 'romantic getaway' thing. There's us, the beach and the sun, and that's it for /miles/. Well, and maybe some dolphins. But I don't think they're likely to watch."
She dropped back to the bed, her mouth finding Tara's in a long, indolent kiss. When it broke, Faith rolled over and reached down to the side of the bed. "Here, she said, pulling up a little hamper. "Traditional Christmas breakfast."
She tipped off the lid and took out a half bottle of champagne in a little ice bucket, and a huge box of Swiss truffles.
Tara raised her eyebrows. "Traditional?"
Faith shrugged, and popped the cork. "A tradition's gotta start somewhere, right? I figured this was as good a place as any."
She tipped the bottle, and let the foaming champagne run out over Tara's breasts and stomach. Tara gasped as the cold liquid hit her skin, then again as it was followed by Faith's tongue. She arched her back, winding her hands into Faith's hair as her teeth grazed lightly over Tara's almost painfully stiff nipples.
"That's my girl," said Faith, sliding her hands under Tara's hips and raising her off the bed. She trailed her tongue downwards, letting it slide through blonde curls wet with champagne and desire.
Tara groaned at the light touch on her clit, pushing herself down against Faith's tongue to try and increase the pressure. She was rewarded by longer, flatter strokes that sent a heavy heat spiralling lazily upwards throughout her body. She gripped the sheet, gathering up fistfuls of it and twisting them as Faith's strokes became faster and faster. She panted, feeling the sweat run down her skin as the Caribbean sun lit up the room; inner and outer heat fighting for dominance.
She made a choking sound as the pressure built irresistibly, then cried out Faith's name as it finally crested and burst.
Faith lowered her gently back to the bed, then eased herself upwards so that they were lying side by side again. She grinned, then pulled Tara to her for a soft, gently-probing kiss.
"Merry Christmas," she said.
Tara grinned back, pushing damp tendrils out of her eyes as her heart rate gradually slowed back to normal. "Merry Christmas to you, too. And you know what? I like making new traditions."
3. Making Do - Dawn
"We'll sort it out later," they'd said.
There had just been so much to /do/: with Giles semi-retired now, Dawn's workload had doubled over the last year. Even with Andrew taking on a lot of the administrative stuff, there were meetings and strategy reviews and research sessions and debriefings and Slayers to find and demons to kill and texts to translate and prophecies to puzzle out and evil plans to thwart. Tara herself had an endless round of lectures and training exercises and assessments; these days, they tried to ensure that all Slayers had at least basic magical skills as well as combat ones.
It was a good life; rewarding and fulfilling. It just didn't leave a lot of time for anything else.
Like holiday preparations, for example. They'd meant to, sure - Tara was going to get a tree, and Dawn was going to buy presents, and they were going to invite Giles and Olivia over for lunch. It was just that every time they planned to start, something seemed to come up. First there was the vamp-werewolf hybrid that Xander found in Sydney, then the Slayer in North Korea who got arrested and all the diplomatic shuffling that took to fix, and then Buffy and Faith had a huge fight and that took even more diplomatic shuffling, and somehow there was just never time.
"We'll sort it out later," they'd said.
And then there was the whole thing with the accidental portal and the infestation of Yagrit lizards, and all of a sudden there was no more later. It was Christmas morning, and they were holed up in Tara's workshop with a small horde of Yagrits howling and gibbering outside the window.
Dawn sighed. "Merry Christmas," she said, shaking her head.
Tara gave her a small smile. "I think the quality of the carol singers has definitely gone down this year."
Dawn picked up her hand and squeezed it. "I'm sorry, Tara. I wanted this to be a nice day for you, and -" she broke off, then glanced up at the window. One of the larger Yagrits hissed at her. "Well. This wasn't exactly what I had in mind."
"Oh, sweetie, it's okay." Tara returned the squeeze, then nodded towards the green cloud that was revolving slowly in the middle of the room. "The banishing spell will be finished soon. Only another, uh, fifteen hours or so."
Dawn leaned forward, peering at it. "I guess the ropes of carbonised entrails look kind of festive. If you squint." She paused, and wrinkled her nose. "And don't breathe in too deeply." She groaned softly, and let her head fall forward into her hands.
Tara reached out and stroked her hair. "It's okay," she said again. "Really. Everyone's safe, and that's what matters. You did everything right."
Dawn lifted her head. "But I wanted - I wanted - "
"I know. But evil doesn't take time off for the holidays, right? Isn't that what Mr Giles always says?"
"Yes. But it /should/," said Dawn, pouting and smiling at the same time in an expression that made her look seventeen again. "Stupid Yagrits."
Tara smiled back and leaned in for a kiss. "Well, we've got fifteen hours to kill. Any ideas what we can do to pass the time?"
Dawn grinned. "Charades?" she said, with an innocent look, then squealed as Tara threw a spellbook at her. She got up, and resettled herself in Tara's lap. "Well," she said, nestling closer. "This might not be the kind of holiday we were planning, but I guess we'll just have to make do."
4. Business As Usual - Fred
The thing that had most amazed and delighted Tara about Fred was her appetite. For such a tiny, fragile-looking girl, she'd had an insatiable hunger: for food, for knowledge, for love.
The others had been - not hostile, exactly, but certainly wary. Even Spike. Not that she blamed him, or any of them; their dealings with the Council hadn't exactly been on the friendliest terms and they didn't really have much reason to trust her. Tara hadn't been sure herself that she was doing the right thing, but after it had all gone so wrong with Willow she simply hadn't known where else to go. It'd taken her a long while to feel comfortable there - to feel accepted.
Except with Fred. Unlike the others, Fred had been warm and welcoming from the start. They'd become friends straight away - and then, later, more.
They'd actually got together because of Christmas - Tara hadn't really been in a position to do the traditional family thing, and Fred refused to hear of her spending the day alone in her apartment, however much she protested that she'd be fine. So she'd found herself bundled off to Texas to find out first hand how family hospitality was supposed to be done. She'd been kissed and fed and cooed over to within an inch of her life, and just as Fred had predicted, she'd loved every minute of it.
Fred and her mother had cooked: great steaming plates of meat and potatoes and vegetables, giant cakes and puddings and delicious brandy-flavoured sauce. She'd licked remnants of the cream from Fred's fingers, and realised she was falling in love.
Illyria doesn't eat. Tara doesn't know how she gets sustenance, where her energy comes from, but it isn't from tacos or pancakes or muffins. She seems to have some kind of internal power source, one that never needs to be topped up with anything so disgusting and human as food.
There are many disgusting, human things that Illyria doesn't need any more, and Tara's found that she's glad to be one of them.
She tried, at first. Tried to find the essence of Fred that she was sure was still there. Tried to tempt her out with meals and kisses and love, but it got her nothing but fresh pain.
She doesn't try any more.
"Hey," says Spike, pushing open the door to her office. "What are you still doing here? It's Christmas, pet. Time to go celebrate."
"I'm a pagan," she snaps, without looking up. "I don't celebrate Christmas."
There's a pause, and she can hear him hesitate. But Spike's perceptive, always was. She's grateful for that.
He shuts the door, and leaves her alone.
5. Telling Stories - Tara
When she woke from her doze, there was a plate and a cup by the side of her chair. Hot jasmine tea in the cup, a piece of spiced fruit cake on the plate. And a bunch of girls all sat on the floor by her feet.
She smiled and thanked them, but was careful not to use any names. She got them mixed up so easily these days.
They wanted a story, she knew. The days when she organised the holiday celebrations practically single-handed had been gone for a long, long time, but she still had one duty: she was the storyteller, the only one left who remembered the old days. It was an important role, she knew. Sure, the facts were all there in the manuals and diaries, but those stories were dry and dusty. What these girls wanted to hear was love, not information.
And oh, how fiercely she still loved them all, even now. She looked forward to these times just as much as the girls did, because for a while it brought them all back to her. /Those /names, she never forgot.
She sipped her tea and pulled the blanket a little tighter around her. It was a little cold for her taste here, wherever 'here' was. She struggled a little with places, too. But she didn't think she would any more. When they moved again, she didn't think she'd be going with them.
She didn't regret her long life, of course she didn't. She'd been blessed in so many ways, seen so many wonderful things. But it had also become a burden, being the last. Being the one to try and do justice to the story.
She gave a little start, and realised that she'd dropped off again. The tea was cold now, but her girls were still there. Still waiting.
She cleared her throat, took as deep a breath as her worn lungs would allow and leant forward. They watched her with rapt eyes, so attentive and spellbound even though they'd heard her tell this so many times before. That was good; next year, someone else would have to be the storyteller.
"In every generation," she said softly, "there was a Chosen One..."