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ABCs of Christmas, Slayer Style, version 2

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Chapter 1: A is for Angel
Author notes: I wrote a fic years ago in this same format, with each letter of the alphabet representing a short story related to Christmas revolving around Buffy, Faith, and their daughter Callie (obviously AU). I decided to do the same thing this year, only in the AU parallel universe to my series Watch My Back- a companion piece to my story Mine. So each short Christmas inspired story revolves around the assumption that Diana Dormer is raising both teenage Faith and Legs/Sheena Sadovsky. These will mostly be short and silly, but there will be some serious ones thrown in too.

Disclaimer: I own none of these characters, I just enjoy taking them out to play with.

A is for Angel

It did not surprise Diana to find her "adopted" daughter standing in their living room, her body very still, face serious and intent as she stared up at the large, lavishly decorated tree that was the room's centerpiece of attention. Ever since she, Sheena, and her other adopted daughter, Faith, had put the tree in its place only two days before, it seemed that Sheena could not walk through the room without stopping to gaze up at it, a pleased smile curving her lips, her dark blue eyes wide and glowing softly.

It warmed Diana's heart to see her obvious enjoyment every time, the fact that even now it seemed that Sheena had to tell herself at times that what she had and the life she lead was her own. This was the first Christmas Sheena had celebrated in years, certainly the first Christmas tree she had had, and it did not surprise her that the girl was so often drawn to simply stop and gaze at their tree in wonder of its very presence.

But this time as Diana watched her she saw that there was no smile on Sheena's lips and a thoughtful sadness to her eyes, and she drew closer to her, careful not to make noise and startle her. Sheena looked over, the reflective essence of not leaving her eyes as she gestured toward the upper section of the tree.

"Diana…do you believe in angels? That they're really real…maybe not on earth, but somewhere?"

Diana studied Sheena's face, and seeing that this was no idle curiosity on her part, but rather something preying on her thoughts, she smiled back at her gently, laying a hand on her shoulder.

"Well, Sheena, what are your thoughts on the matter?"

As usual, Sheena reacted positively to Diana's touch, stepping closer so their arms touched. Diana resisted the urge to put her arms around her just then as she waited patiently for Sheena to sort through her thoughts.

"Well…there's all this evil stuff out there we always learn about, the stuff Faith fights," she said finally, her words slow, careful. "Monsters and vampires and demons and all that…so…if there's all that bad stuff, shouldn't there be good stuff too, to balance it out? Shouldn't there be things like…I don't know. I mean, maybe not these things, but things like them…fairies, or good spirits, or gods, or God, or…well…angels?"

Though her tone was musing, questioning, when Sheena's eyes met hers, Diana saw the hope burning fervently in their surface, a hope that was almost a need, and though she did not quite understand the reasons for it, she was not about to deter her.

She did slip her arm around the girl then, drawing her to her side and giving her a light squeeze around the shoulders as she replied, looking over at the slightly taller Sheena with a smile.

"I believe that our world is one of many wonders and marvels, Sheena, with the miraculous occurring on a daily basis…and with all the good still continuing in this world, it would not surprise me at all if angels were the cause of some of it."

Sheena leaned into the embrace, and though she did not slip her arm around Diana's waist in return, her arm pressed closely against her side as if she wished but didn't quite dare to do so.

"Do you think they watch over us?" she said softly after a few moments, and she was looking at the tree again, her eyes fixed on the angel that she herself, having the longest arms and legs, had placed at the top. "Like, floating around where we can't see? Right here on earth…is that what people are, once they die?"

Diana regarded Sheena with mild surprise, wondering at this line of thought, for both she and Faith had never before expressed any interest at all in speaking about death or an afterlife. Diana had assumed that because they were teenagers, they rarely thought about it as a possibility connected to themselves or those they knew- even Faith, who risked her life on a regular basis slaying. Or perhaps they became too uneasy, too personally haunted by their own losses when the subject arose to dwell on it long.

But now as she watched Sheena, attempting to understand what answers she needed, Sheena spoke again very softly, and Diana's mystery was resolved.

"It would be really cool if my mom could do that…see me. How I'm alright now. I'd kind of like it if she could."

So that was it…Sheena's mother, deceased now for fourteen years, but still not absent from her thoughts. At seventeen, Sheena very rarely spoke of her, never once mentioned that she might miss her even now, even with the few, faint memories that must remain, but those few sentences, spoken in that quiet, vulnerable tone, told Diana all she needed to know. She may serve as Sheena's mother figure now…she may love her as her own, and she may be loved by Sheena in return. But none of this would change Sheena's longing for the mother of her own blood, even if only in the form of an angel.

"Sheena, I am certain that wherever your mother is, and whatever she might be now, she would be infinitely pleased and proud to have given to the world a daughter as exceptional as you," she told her, her voice as quiet and serious as the child's as she met her gaze with her own. "She brought forth a daughter who is bright and resourceful, loving and protective, courageous and strong, and she must love to know who you have become, with so little help along the way. I know that I am."

She touched her head briefly to Sheena's, squeezing her shoulders again as she continued.

"Your mother has given me a great opportunity and blessing in you, Sheena, and I am glad you are in this world and in my home…you are my gift this Christmas, and I am grateful to your mother for it."

There were tears now standing in Sheena's eyes as she looked back at Diana silently, thinning her lips, and mouthed a thank you that Diana did not hear. Then, as her eyes moved back to regard the angel at its place of honor on the tree, Sheena slowly slipped her arm around Diana's waist, leaning into her side. Together they stood without speaking, listening to the sound of the others' breaths as they remained close.

Chapter 2: B is for Bells
B is for Bells

Sleep…it was something that Legs Sadovsky, or Sheena, as she was now called, had come to cherish more than she would have thought possible, now that she was actually able to have it. Now that she spent every night in a safely locked home, with her own room and her own warm bed, with no need to scavenge for shelter or wake frequently to make sure no one was stealing her things or her spot, or trying to harm her, sleep was at last something she could fully surrender herself to without anxiety or restless dread of what might come. Even nightmares barely dampened her ability to fully enjoy the sleep she could experience in Faith and Diana's home…her home too now. Here she was safe…here she could be assured that nothing, be it rain or snow, demons or ghouls, twisted humans or nosy cops, sickness or sorrow, could ever affect her enough to steal from her all the rest she wanted or needed. Here, she could sleep for as much and as long as she needed, and nothing would take that from her again.

Unless, of course, you took into account the Faith factor.

A loud clanging noise approximately a foot from her right ear jerked Sheena awake with a choked gasp, eyes darting in shock and alarm, heart beating rapidly as she disorientedly attempted to process her surroundings. When her eyes focused she took in Faith, just turned sixteen, clad in a coat and gloves, and grinning broadly as she bounced on Sheena's bed on her knees. As Sheena's eyes fell to the decorative Christmas bell in her hand, which had been on the mantle in the living room when Sheena went to sleep the night before, Faith shook the bell enthusiastically again, connecting the dots for her as to what had happened.

"Get up, lazyass, it's Christmas Eve, Diana says we can have the day off, and I don't have her a gift yet, you gotta help me! Plus it's snowing again, and I want to go out."

She rang the bell again, then dodged, laughing, dimples flickering into view as Sheena swiped at her. But as Sheena reluctantly threw back her covers, she was trying to hide a smile. It WAS Christmas Eve…she could sleep later.

Faith, though, was just asking for a retaliating awakening with that damn bell.

Chapter 3: C is for Carolers
C is for Carolers

Diana's blue eyes regarded the girls sternly as she looked from one to the other, eyebrows arched, arms crossed over her chest as she looked at them in silence. Sheena's ears reddened, her eyes skipping away, and Faith's mouth twisted into a smile that was partly guilty grimace, partly suppressed laughter even as she attempted to look solemn and sorry. Even as her eyes remained stern, Diana's mouth twitched too as she spoke to them.

"Can you explain to me again, Faith, why you found it necessary to shower those poor people with several vials of holy water?"

"I thought they were vampires!" Faith exclaimed, eyes wide and earnest even as her lips twitched again, her shoulders shaking with barely suppressed laughter. "I did!"

At Diana's continued stare, Faith tried to explain, looking at Sheena for support.

"They came to the door dressed in old fashioned clothes, and they asked to come inside, and- how was I supposed to know they're just human do-gooders? I mean, who the hell does CAROLING GROUPS anymore?"

Both she and Sheena burst out laughing all over again then, unable to keep it back as Faith attempted to keep explaining through her mirth.

"God, Di- you, you should have seen- and they couldn't hold their- they could read the pages- and the one with the muff-"

Diana tried to maintain a grave expression as she continued to stare the girls down, but between their helpless laughter and the images forming in her own mind, she couldn't keep from smiling too.

Chapter 4: D is for Drunk
D is for Drunk

Diana shook her head as she looked down at the girls sprawled limply across her couch, speaking aloud to herself as much as to either of them.

"When I said that you girls should get in the Christmas spirit, I most decidedly did NOT say or mean to DRINK spirits, and all the eggnog you could spike either," she stated, arms crossed, expression stern, but also concealing the ghost of a smirk.

The only response she received was a faint groan from Sheena and a flickering of Faith's eyes in her direction, neither possessing the will nor energy to speak, let alone move. Both girls were languid and sluggish, their color almost gray, and Diana only had to look at their slitted eyes and tense, pained features to know the suffering they were undergoing. But she had little sympathy for them or their hangovers- they had been well earned and deserved after their conduct, and particularly after the way they had disrupted her sleep the night before.

The girls had returned after Faith's patrol hours later than they had been expected by several hours, stumbling on their feet, clumsily attempting to support each other in their highly intoxicated states as they nearly fell through the doorway. Diana assumed they had stumbled upon a Christmas party that had been more than happy to provide entirely too many drinks to underage girls- the details of this were unclear, as the girls had done little when she attempted to question them but sway and cling to each other's necks, giggling and speaking in loud, overly excited voices without replying to her questions.

"You said we ought to get with the Christmas spirit, Di, and we totally did…falalalala and ho ho ho," Faith had snorted, and Sheena giggled too, leaning heavily into Faith's side even as she protested.

"Hey…don't call me a ho…ho…"

That had been the most coherent statement Diana had gotten out of them. Frustrated, she had set about to steer them towards their bedrooms, but the girls were so loud and silly and clearly not ready to settle to sleep she had instead thrown blankets on the couch, pushed them towards it, and told them shortly that they would speak in the morning. It was quite late, and Diana had already waited up for them.

She didn't get the opportunity to sleep even then, however, for she had barely crossed the threshold of her bedroom floor before she heard the unmistakable noises of someone retching. Returning hurriedly to the living room, she had discovered that Sheena, who had apparently drunk every bit as much as Faith despite lacking Faith's Slayer constitution, had been sick on herself, Faith, and part of the floor.

Because both girls were too slow moving and ineffective to clean themselves or the floor properly, it had been up to Diana to do so, and she had cared very little for either girl's modesty as she less than gently stripped them down, wiped any contaminated body parts, and yanked both into pajamas, then pushed them back towards the couch. Because Sheena was sick twice more, though Diana had the foresight to provide her with a trashcan after the first time, she still needed to check on her frequently, because the girl was so out of it she could have choked if Diana didn't make sure she lay down on her side.

All in all it had been a miserable, sleepless night, and armed with the recent consumption of four cups of coffee, Diana had decided that it was her duty to seek revenge.

She started out by taking a decorative string of bells from the mantle and draping it around her neck, causing her to jingle and jangle loudly with every movement. Already she could see the girls cringing, but she was barely begun. Turning on all the lights decking out the mantle and tree, Diana hummed "O Christmas Tree" loudly and tunelessly, exaggerating her steps to jangle all the more.

Faith and Sheena both screwed their eyes shut, reacting painfully to the bright light, and both were groaning now as Diana disappeared into the kitchen adjoining, beginning to pull out pots, pans, and baking ingredients with as many bangs and slams as possible. She heard Sheena moan again, more loudly this time, and Faith drew her knees up to her chest and buried her head under her pillow, trying to block out all outside stimuli.

"I hope you're ready for some Christmas cookies, girls!" Diana called, even as she smirked, knowing well that the smell of any food would likely turn their stomachs, even cookies. "They should be ready soon enough!"

She slammed two more doors just as Faith called out in a strangled voice, "Di, what are you DOING?"

Diana suppressed a chuckle as she called out guilelessly, slamming down another baking sheet, even though she had two out already.

"Why, Faith, I am getting into the Christmas spirit!"

And of course, she decided, as she reached for the portable stereo beside the stove, this could not be accomplished without listening to Christmas carols. Her smirk became a grin as Diana turned the volume up as loudly as it would go.

Chapter 5: E is for Elf
E is for Elf

The girls stared down at the motionless form at their feet, eyes wide. For several moments neither spoke or moved. When Faith broke the stunned silence that had fallen between them, her words were slow, underscoring her continued disbelief.

"That can't possibly be what it looks like."

"Look how small it is," Sheena pointed out in an equally hushed tone, gesturing with a hand that shook slightly as her eyes did not swerve from the still figure on the sidewalk, dimly illuminated by the nearby streetlight. "No normal person is that little…and look at his face, it's all pointy-"

"A lot of people are small," Faith argued, shaking her head, but she too could not seem to make herself look away for long. "I mean, there's people who are midgets or whatever- that's probably what he is- I mean, what he WAS-"

"Look at his EARS," Sheena shook her head back at her, more insistent now as she pointed at the figure's head again, jabbing her finger at it. "How many midgets have pointy ears like that? Where have you seen ears like that before?"

"Maybe they're fake," Faith tried next, her voice showing hope now, and she took a step forward and squatted beside the prone form. When she gingerly put out a finger to flick the ear, her face stiffened, and she quickly withdrew it, scrambling back to her feet. "Okay, maybe they're real…but that doesn't mean the guy's not just cursed in the genetics department…or…liked to cash out on his screwy looks around Christmas-"

"Dressing in a red button up jacket, green tights, shoes that curl at the toe, and a jingle bell hat?" Sheena cut her off, eyebrows shooting up incredulously. "If you already looked like a freak, would you really want to go all out on it like that so people stare even more?"

"Well, maybe he's a gnome," Faith tried next, "or some kind of weird demon or something that wants to dress like that so…I don't know, he can fool kids into thinking he's some kind of good little Christmas sprite, or-"

"Or maybe he's an elf," Sheena replied. "A real, actual elf…and it got murdered."

The girls stared down at the small figure with the Christmasy outfit and pointy ears, the open-eyed corpse with bitemarks dribbling blood down its neck, and Faith exhaled, finally admitting defeat.

"Shit…I just hope they didn't make it drink anything. Can you imagine, a freaking vampire Christmas elf? ….does Diana still have that ax in the garage?"

Chapter 6: F is for Faith
F is for Faith

Sheena "Legs" Sadovsky had never been one to have faith, in any definition of the word. She had no faith in the way of religion, for she had stopped believing in God in the same year she stopped believing in Santa. She could not believe in or fathom a God who loved and cared for everyone when all she had to do was look around herself to see how little she and most of the women and girls she knew were cared for. Sheena's religion was justice, justice and survival, and she practiced it with a focus and zeal that most pastors would have coveted.

She had no faith in family, for she only had a father who made it clear that she was unwanted, and a half sister so young, tiny, and fragile that the last Sheena had saw her, she was struggling to breathe. She had no faith in authority, for despite their declarations of having only her best interests at heart, it had been they who ignored her wants and needs that should have been painfully obvious for any to see, focusing instead on her breaking of rules and their methods of punishment. It had been authority who sent her to loveless foster homes and juvenile detention, authority who hurt her body and soul and then left her to struggle on her own. She had no faith in friends, for Legs Sadovsky's friends had possessed even less power in the world than she herself did.

Legs knew by the time she was ten that it was foolish, even dangerous, to operate on faith. You had to work to make things happen for you, not simply believe that one day they would come.

And yet, sometimes, they just did…and somehow, Faith kept inserting itself into her life.

There was Maddy, of course. Madeleine Faith Wirtz, the first girl Legs felt she could trust and open up to, just a little- the first girl she ever let herself love. Two years with Maddy and on a lesser level, the other girls of their Foxfire gang, had given Legs faith in their friendship, and what it could do for them. Whatever might happen with she and Maddy, she had believed, Foxfire was beyond it. Foxfire was forever.

But she had been wrong, and just as she was alone again, protecting herself from the inevitable fall that she now knew faith would bring, Faith came to her again- this time announcing itself plainly in the form of Faith Lehane, the fourteen-year-old girl Legs had been unable to resist taking under her wing.

This time, Legs had barely dared to open herself to faith, and to Faith, scarcely daring to let it in close enough so she might hurt too badly when it was taken from her too. And she had been…only months later, far less time than she had had with Maddy, and Faith was gone from her too, leaving her back to her dreaded status quo of faithless solitude.

She had thought then that was the end, her last shot, her final verdict. Faith in her life was a meaningless dream not worth dwelling on, an idea bred straight from fairy tales. Faith could not survive in the face of Legs's existence, and she had done everything she could to keep it from knocking again at her door.

But now she was here…and now she was with Faith again, and Diana too, and everything she had never had was hers. One moment of swallowed pride, one hand reaching out to knock on one doorway, one step forward in one last clinging strand of desperate faith, and she was here. Warm and fed, clothed and sheltered, given everything she needed and more…she was loved. Legs…no, Sheena, as she was called now, knew she was loved, and it was this love she saw every day in the things Diana gave her, the smiles and touch she and Faith bestowed on her, and the gentle way she was spoken to, the way Diana looked at her as if she too had pride and faith in her, made Sheena begin to feel that maybe it was okay to believe that all of it was really hers…that maybe it was okay to have faith in Diana too.

She had waited at first for all of this to end, for Diana to send her away or take Faith and leave. She had fully expected this to happen and braced herself for the moment to come. But it had been over six months now and she was still here…and Sheena was beginning to believe that she would remain, that maybe her faith in something could finally hold out.

"There is no blood or paperwork between us, Sheena, but I hardly think we need such things to know you are mine," Diana had told her once, her eyes soft, and Sheena had desperately wanted to believe. Months later, she could finally accept that at last, it was possible that it was true, that she finally did have something and someone to call hers.

And if all this was hers…then what else was possible too?

She had found her eyes drifting one evening as she sat before Diana near the Christmas tree, Faith cross-legged nearby, coming to rest on the Nativity set beneath. Diana rarely spoke of religion or her views of it, but as Sheena regarded the little manger thoughtfully, she had wondered…if she had faith in Diana, was it possible she could ever have faith in Diana's faith too?

Chapter 7: G is for Gingerbread
G is for Gingerbread

"I don't know how we had enough candy left to make this, the way you keep eating it all," Sheena said to Faith, rolling her eyes, even as she punctuated her statement by popping a piece into her own mouth.

Faith slapped her hand good-naturedly, grinning as she spoke through the licorice stick still dangling from her lips, and gestured towards their nearly completed masterpiece.

"As long as we leave like five pieces, we're done now…can have as much as I want, Rationer. Few more…let me do it."

Carefully shaping a few more strands of licorice, even as she continued to chew on her own, Faith placed them with gentle precision yet firmness as she wanted, shoved Sheena's hovering hand away, and gave her a mock scowl when Sheen grabbed the last two M& Ms, setting them in place and crossing her eyes at her. In spite of herself, Faith grinned as she turned to regard their work.

"Looks pretty damn sweet," she approved, and Sheena nodded, her eyes bright.

"Literally…you were right, this is way better than the usual blueprint for these things. Go get Diana, show her the finished product."

Rather than personally fetching her Watcher, as Sheena had assumed she would, Faith went to the doorway of the kitchen, stuck her head out, and called out loud, "Diana! You can come in the kitchen now! Come see our gingerbread work of art!"

As Diana came into the kitchen doorway, she first paused to fix Faith with a stern look and raised eyebrow.

"Faith, we have spoken before about you yelling through the house rather than walking to get the person you wish to speak to."

"Sorry, Diana," Faith said, but she was too pleased with herself to keep back a smile as she took her arm, pulling Diana along into the kitchen and gesturing proudly toward the table. Sheena too looked over to Diana with an expectant but happy smile, obviously hoping for her approval of their finished product as Faith spoke.

"Here it is, our Christmas gingerbread cemetery! Isn't is freakin' wicked?"

Diana's eyes roved over the scene with more than a little surprise, taking in its careful details…the gingerbread tombstones, smeared with black and white icing mixed together to form a questionable grey, the fence formed of black licorice and held together with icing, the cobblestone walkway formed of brown M&Ms, and the small gingerbread men who were, based on the dabs of red icing on the faces, apparently supposed to be vampires. The gingerbread vampires were pretty silly, but other than that, Faith and Sheena's work, if strange, was fairly impressive, and Diana laughed, shaking her head.

"You girls certainly don't go with tradition, do you? This is very creative."

"And that's not all," Sheena smiled back, her eyes glowing as she picked up three more gingerbread men, using a toothpick to dipped in icing to write on their chests. When she had finished, placing them carefully in the scene, Diana saw that she had written their names, one across each chest. On the Faith and Sheena cookies, she had used black icing for the pants and shirt area; on the Diana cookie, she had used the gray mix of black and white, and she smiled over at Diana as she gestured towards the cookies.

"There…NOW it's done."

Diana looked at the gloppy partially gray icing, the cookie versions of herself and her daughters, and thought with as much pride as amusement that one thing was certain with those girls…her girls were originals. Her girls were never going to blend in with any crowd.

Chapter 8: H is for Hanging Ornaments
H is for Hanging Ornaments

"Maybe I should do the garland, I'm taller," Sheena said as she watched Faith wind her way around the tall Christmas tree, reaching past her head to affix the bushy garland strands to the next line up of branches. "At least get a stool or something, you're gonna fall into the tree."

"Slayer reflexes, never gonna happen," Faith retorted, shirt rising up to show her navel and lower back as she lifted her arms, wrapping the garland around another branch. "Anyway, you did the lights and kept getting them caught in your hair, you could have caught your hair on fire."

"Not without them being plugged in, smartass," Sheena shot back, then before Diana could say the warning about language she was used to, she quickly apologized, half turning towards her. "I know, sorry, Diana."

"Perhaps I should decorate the tree myself, since the two of you seem to have such difficulty coordinating," she said mildly, not really meaning the words so much as making a point, and the girls hurried to head her off.

"No, we've got it, Di…just worried about her going bald and all," Faith slid her eyes towards Sheena with a smirk, and Sheena smirked back, crossing her arms.

"Yeah, and I'm just worried that those Slayer reflexes of hers are wonky…since she's already broke two ornaments and didn't even catch them."

"Hey! I'm holding garland and standing on my toes, I would have had to catch them with one foot!" Faith protested, and Sheena grinned, continuing to tease.

"Yeah, should be no problem with those wicked Slayer reflexes and all, right?"

As the two girls continued to banter more out of habit and friendly affection than anything else, Diana smiled as she watched them, not interfering with their ongoings. Whatever their words, she knew they were happy and enjoying their time decorating, in Sheena's case, her first time she could recall. They were enjoying their time together, and even if Diana was watching rather than participating, she was enjoying herself too. Their method of décor was more interesting than tasteful, but she would have it no other way…even if it did mean she would sacrifice a lot of ornaments along the way.

Even as she thought this another ornament crashed to the floor, victim of Faith's wrestle with the garland, and Faith swore under her breath.

"Uh, Di…none of these things are worth that much, right?"

Chapter 9: I is for Icicle
I is for Icicle

"Di's gonna kill you if she figures out you snuck after me like this again," Faith said conversationally as she casually paced up and down the cemetery rows, flipping her stake from hand to hand. "You know this is like the eighth time…she's gonna start boarding up your window if you don't watch it, she was serious."

She wiggled her eyebrows, grinning with sudden mischief as she smirked. "Might even make you sleep in her room so she can keep an EYE on you."

"Oh, shut up," Sheena retorted, but she was smiling as she said with casual confidence, "she won't find out. I can be stealthy, you know."

"Like she didn't find out the other seven times?" Faith snorted, shaking her head, and Sheena scooped a pile of snow off the nearest headstone, flinging it at her in one swift motion. She whooped with glee as it exploded across Faith's chest.

"This time will be different- ha! Missed me, slowass, where's the Slayer speed?"

Duly goaded, Faith took off after her, stake clinched in one hand, rapidly scooping up snow with the other and throwing it in Sheena's direction as fast as she could scoop. Sheena dodged and ran, hair flying, weaving in and out of graves to give Faith a live target practice as she laughed, turning her head to look over her shoulder.

"So slow, Bigelow- when are you gonna- whoa, fuck!"

Seconds after she turned her head, Sheena collided full on into another figure who had silently appeared before her, the impact of the hit sending her crashing to the ground at his feet. Faith started to guffaw at this comedic timing, but cut herself off quickly when she realized at second glance that the person was not actually a person, but rather a vampire…and he was looking down at Sheena with a decidedly unsettling leer spreading over his features.

"Well, hello down there," he drawled, stepping closer slowly, even as Sheena froze, staring up at him with widened eyes. "You really ought to watch where you're going, little girl…wouldn't' want to lose your way…"

"At least I'm not the one who lost my life," Sheena retorted, beginning to scramble to her feet, but the vampire loomed over her, shoving her down with force as his teeth glistened in the moonlight, his expression savage as he leaned in threateningly.

"I wouldn't be so sure…"

"Fucking kick him, Legs!" Faith hollered, her heart pounding wildly as she sprinted over to bury her stake through his back, but Sheena acted before she could do so. Reaching out to the first thing near her, a large statue of an angel, Sheena closed her fist around the largest icicle dangling from it, snapping it off and then jamming it through the hovering vampire's chest.

For a moment or two Sheena stared into his face with fierce defiance, eyebrows slanted in, jaw set, eyes blazing as she waited, expecting him to register horror, anger, pain…she expected him to explode into dust, as they always did when Faith handled the stakings. But this vampire did none of this. Instead, he began to laugh.

"An icicle? What are you trying to do, freeze me to death?"

He yanked the icicle from his chest and tossed it aside impatiently, baring his fangs once more. But Faith overtook him from behind, slinging him away from Sheena to the ground and putting her stake into his back through his heart.

As the vampire scattered into dust, disintegrating into the air, Faith turned to Sheena, still sprawled out on the snow covered ground, and spread her arms incredulously.

"An icicle? Do you pay any attention at ALL to Di's vampire 101 lessons? You can't stake them with an icicle!"

"It's what was THERE," Sheena said defensively, lifting her chin, even as her cheeks reddened and she started to awkwardly get to her feet. "It wasn't like I had a fucking forest at my disposal here. Between ice and snow, I picked ice."

"No wonder Di wants you to stay at home," Faith snickered, still shaking her head as she extended a hand to help her to her feet. "You need a review, Sheena Legs…by the way, know how you were saying Di never is gonna know because of your stealth and skills?"

She snickered again as she inclined her head towards Sheena's wet and torn pants. "Something tells me she's gonna figure it out this time too."

Chapter 10: J is for Jesus
ooc: When Legs was thirteen, she used to hang out with an old alcoholic priest and was in awe of him...I think she's more spiritually inclined than Faith, though she is by no means religious.

J is for Jesus

"You don't believe in God, do you, Faith?" Sheena asked, and Faith looked over at her with a furrowed brow. They had just bid Diana goodnight after their daily evening wind-down, and now lay together on the living room couch, relaxed, quiet, sleepy, Faith's head leaned against Sheena's shoulder as she stared absently in the direction of the dying fire in the fireplace.

Faith had thought that Sheena too wasn't thinking of anything in particular, just enjoying lying close to her, but as she followed the older girl's gaze, she saw that she was looking at the small Nativity scene under their Christmas tree.

"No, I don't," Faith said simply, lifting her head briefly from Sheena's shoulder to look up at her before settling back against her. "Why?"

It was rare for the two of them to have a serious conversation, let alone one about religion, and Faith found the unfamiliarity of it made it difficult for her to settle comfortably against Sheena again as she waited for her answer.

"Well, I think Diana must," Sheena replied slowly as she slipped an arm around Faith's shoulders. "I mean, she's got that manger. And she told us the story. You know, of Jesus being born."

"She tells us a lot of stories…it 's part of us being educated and aware or something. Anyway, not like I never heard it…my mom was Catholic, supposedly," Faith shrugged, having not thought about Diana's religious views before, and not really interested. But Sheena wasn't letting it go.

"I talked a lot to a priest, when I was younger…he was a genius. I mean, I don't know if he was right about everything, but he thought so…and…you think Diana does believe? In God, or Jesus?"

A little annoyed by her persistence, Faith exhaled, shrugging. "I don't know, Legs, jeez. You'd have to ask her, how would I know?"

Sheena fell silent for another minute or two, still absently encircling Faith's shoulders with her arm. Faith had begun to think she had finally dropped the subject when she spoke again.

"We're kind of like Jesus, you know."

At this, Faith sat up and away from her to stare, eyebrows shooting up. "Say WHAT?"

"You know," she shrugged, gesturing vaguely towards the manger. "Poor kid. Out in the cold- he was BORN on the streets, even-"

"He was born in a barn," Faith corrected, but Sheena waved her off.

"Well he wasn't born in a house or hospital. He was born a street kid, Faith…ever think about that?"

"No," Faith assured her, yawning. "Legs, the guy was supposedly God's son…and if he was real, which I totally doubt, even with the whole crucified thing, he was a god. People went around worshipping him…he wouldn't' have got one thing about our lives. Can we stop going on about this now?"

She rested her head back against Sheena's shoulder, putting her legs across her lap, but even as Sheena fell silent again, one hand unconsciously rubbing up and down Faith's arm, her eyes were drifting back to the manger, regarding it thoughtfully.

She didn't know what her beliefs were, or if she had any. But if Jesus had been real, and had been born the way Diana said, she had a feeling that Faith was wrong, that maybe he would have understood something about their lives.

Chapter 11: K is for Keeping Warm
K is for Keeping Warm

"What is it about you and heights?" spoke a familiar voice suddenly from just behind her, and Sheena's head swiveled quickly, seeking out the source of the question. From the other side of the rooftop Faith was walking towards her, steps placed with more care than Sheena had shown earlier, as she crossed the roof herself.

For Sheena, if not Faith, being up high was like breathing in air, and from where she sat on the roof's edge, knees drawn to her chest, she smiled at Faith, shrugging.

"You use the ladder or go up the real way?"

"If by what you mean by the REAL way is climbing up the side like Spiderman, or something, no, I used the ladder that's kinda there for a reason. Sorry to disappoint," Faith rolled her eyes as she came closer, stopping to stand just behind Sheena. At the higher altitude, the winter air was frigid, though most of the snow remaining on the roof and ground was slush, and Faith shivered in her leather coat, hugging herself against a slight stir of breeze. "Di's gonna have your ass if she sees you ignoring what you said about the ladder."

"There's no point in climbing if you can't CLIMB," Sheena shrugged again as she turned her attention back to the sights before her, and Faith watched, her voice genuinely curious as she repeated her earlier question.

"What is it with you and climbing?"

Sheena took several moments to reply, and when she did, her words were slow, thoughtful, as if she were measuring the truth of their meaning. She didn't look back at Faith, seeming to pull the answers from what she saw before her.

"I can see everything…every house and tree and person…I'm above it all, and I see it all and they don't even know it. They can't look back at me. And that's something amazing…that's beautiful, you know? Fucking beautiful." She was quiet for a few moments, face still, yet rapt, cheeks flushed as though pleased even at speaking about it, and there was a softness to the slight curve of her lips as she looked back at Faith, inclining her head towards her as her tangled dark hair blew gently across her face, one strand sticking to her nose.

"Just LOOK, Faith. Just sit with me…and LOOK."

Faith watched her, brow furrowed faintly at the serious tone of her voice, then simply obeyed, sitting cross-legged beside her, shoulder to shoulder, and following her gaze to the world beyond and below.

Being early evening, the world from their view was still, nearly silent, with few cars out on the roads they could see. The snow, what remained of it on the roofs and sidewalks, glistened wetly, giving of a shimmery sheen, and the girls' breath puffed in faint clouds of smoky appearance before their faces, though Sheena, despite her lack of warm clothing in her thin long-sleeved shirt, did not appear to be cold. Plastic manger sets stood on the lawns of some homes, wicker reindeer or blow up Santas on others, and lights of green, red, blue, and mishmashes of color flashed and twinkled from rooftops and trees. The entire town was aglow, stars winking and blinking across the expanses of night sky, and as Faith took this in, she nodded, pressing her shoulder into Sheena's.

"Yeah…it is kind of cool, I guess."

"It's the world like God would see it, if he was real," Sheena said softly, still looking out, and Faith nodded again, then grinned slyly, dimples digging into her cheeks as she nudged Sheena in the ribs, then blew her breath in her direction.

"Yeah, it is cool…but I'm totally freezing my ass off."

Sheena rolled her eyes, but smiled back, letting the moment be broken. She knew Faith far too well to be annoyed, and so nudged her back instead, following her lead.

"Yeah? Well I know a helluva lot of ways to keep warm, babe," she declared before grabbing Faith around the waist, pulling her to sprawl across her lap in a movement that was half tackle, half embrace. Faith laughed, squirming to adjust herself as she shouted back playfully.

"Don't drop me off the roof, Spider girl!"

And as Sheena closed her arms tightly around Faith, covering her cold hands with her own, resting her chin on Faith's shoulder, she felt warm from the inside out.

Chapter 12: L is for Love
L is for Love

At one point, Faith had thought that love was only a word, an idea like peace, or God, or even Santa, that people thought up as a way to comfort themselves in a meaningless existence. Love was a word used to soften people up to get your way, or to break them down. Love was about manipulation and lies, punishment and pain. Love was something people could gush about one day and throw away the next, and when it came down to it, love was something everyone wanted that Faith didn't think anyone could have…or at least, something she would never have. Love was dangerous, love was uncertain…love invited pain, and there was already so much pain in her life.

But Diana's love was different. Diana had taken her in, no questions asked, with no reason to care for her or about her, every reason to show her nothing but suspicion and disgust, and she hadn't. Diana had cared for her, even when Faith had done all she could to push her away. Diana had loved her, and because of that, everything Faith thought she knew or understood about love had been changed.

Diana's love for her had soothed rather than manipulated, healed rather than hurt, and it had not ebbed and flowed at whim, but rather remained steady and strong. Diana had never left her or harmed her, never gave up on her or put her down, and over time Faith was beginning to realize and then to believe that this would not change…that for Diana, this was what love was.

Faith would have thought that she would have guarded Diana's love with fierce protectiveness, wanting nothing and no one to threaten it or divert its attention from her in any way. She would have thought of it as limited and rare, that she would have to strive to keep it entirely to herself. But then Sheena had come, and it had not been at all as she would have thought. Because Diana's love for Sheena, and Sheena's love for Diana, hadn't seemed threatening to their love for Faith at all. It had seemed okay…even right. Even better, and Faith had started to think that maybe only now was she beginning to understand what love could be.

And now with Christmas so soon approaching, it seemed she was learning more each day. Picking out gifts, smiling at the thought of how their recipients would look as she opened it…decorating the house and baking, singing and playing in the snow, sitting with Diana and Sheena by the fire…it all seemed to her that it was different, yet all the feelings it brought were the same. And when Diana told her that Christmas was about love, Faith was beginning to think maybe she had a point.

Chapter 13: M is for Mistletoe
M is for Mistletoe

Underneath the archway that stood between the living room and kitchen, Faith and Sheena leaned into each other, Faith's arm tight around Sheena's waist, pulling her pelvis against hers, Sheena's hand splayed across the back of her neck. Faith's leg was in between Sheena's, one hand entwined in a section of her hair, and the two kissed with hungry eagerness, Sheena leaning slightly to catch the lips of the shorter girl.

It was not until they heard the pointed sound of someone clearing her throat behind them that the girls jumped apart slightly, heads still close, as they turned to see Diana standing just behind them, eyebrows raised. Sheena flushed, her eyes skipping away, Faith's dark lipstick smeared over her own makeup-free lips, but Faith grinned, letting go of Sheena's hair as she waved at Diana in all casualness.

"Hey Di…we like the décor," she said, indicating the mistletoe hanging above her head, and Diana smirked as she nodded back.

"So I see. It makes it difficult for one to make it from one location to the next when the two of you block every doorway, however. Why don't you simply tie some mistletoe into each other's hair so you need not find an excuse to engage in…shall we call it holiday spirit?"

Faith laughed, appreciative, and nodded, her dark eyes glinting as she replied, dimples showing in her cheeks mischievously.

"Yeah, let's call it that…and let's make sure you stock up too, Di."

Still loosely holding Sheena in one arm, she reached out with the other, taking Diana's arm and pulling her in close to her and Sheena beneath the archway- and the mistletoe. Diana registered surprise but did not protest as Faith, still grinning, slipped an arm around Diana's shoulders and leaned in to kiss her cheek.

"Now you can pass," she declared, releasing her, and Diana shook her head, still smiling.

"I certainly will not be following that silly tradition every time I wish to enter a room, and if you girls expect to do so, we will have to take it down, as you'll never get from place to place to get anything done if you stop in every doorway."

But before she left the room she gave each of the girls a brief one-armed hug, and each received a warm kiss on the cheek as well before she continued into the kitchen. Neither was worried about a sudden change in décor.

Chapter 14: N is for Nutcracker
N is for Nutcracker

Ooc: I was in the Nutcracker three years…and every single time they made me a mouse. Lol

"That was really…stupid," Faith declared after the credits finally began to roll on the two hour film Diana had insisted she and Sheena watch with her in order to 'give her a better appreciation of arts and culture while also enjoying a holiday classic.' "That didn't even make any sense. Dancing rats and snowflakes and people that are like 30 pretending to be kids? Why do people LIKE that?"

"Perhaps you would have gotten more out of it had you not twice fallen asleep in its duration," Diana said dryly.

Sheena attempted to find something neutral to say, but her expression revealed that she too was less than thoroughly entertained by the evening.

"I liked the bellydancer girl…with the scarves."

"Yeah, because she was half naked," Faith snickered, and Diana looked at her sternly.

"I realize the two of you are not used to watching ballet, but it is good for you to expose yourself to new things. Perhaps in time, as you age, you will develop more of an appreciation for the art form it is….do you realize, Faith, that they put as many or more hours into training for performances as you do for slaying?"

"What a waste of time," was Faith's opinion. "Saving the world versus prancing around in tights…yeah, that's worth it. Especially the guys…you can see EVERYTHING."

She snorted, ignoring the look Diana gave her as she continued. "I mean, what kind of guy wants to go around looking like that, all his junk out to see? Not a straight tone, that's for sure. But then, what kind of girl does cartwheels because her creepy grandpa gave her an ugly kitchen appliance shaped like a soldier? If my grandpa gave me one of those things I'd tell him where he could shove it, and it wouldn't be up a chimney."

"FAITH," Diana said sharply, even as Sheena laughed.

"Faith, you're such a friggin' ballbuster."

At that comment, Faith shook her head, smiling with pride as she corrected her.

"No, no I'm not. I'm a nutcracker."

Both she and Sheena burst out laughing, and Diana knew any efforts to get them to examine and appreciate the fine arts would be wasted, at least for the day. With those girls, and she suspected all teens, when there was a choice between culture and jokes about genitalia, it would not be ballet that was going to win out.

Chapter 15: O is for Opening gifts
O is for Opening Presents

For Diana, Christmas morning, and the rest of Christmas day as well, had once been a quiet, calm affair, a time for reflection and assessment of the year, her life, and her values. Because Christmas Day, until the past couple of years, had been spent in England, where she had then still resided, it was a day to call on friends and family, to enjoy her time of catching up with them and their families. Because her parents were deceased and she only had one sister, who in turn had only one child, her Christmases were quiet affairs, nice, calm, but hardly exciting, and in the evening she returned to her flat alone.

She could hardly say the same any longer. With two teenage daughters, one whom had not celebrated Christmas in any form in the past four years, quiet, calm, and unexciting were not words one could use to describe her current Christmas in America.

This Christmas, Diana did not awaken to a peaceful time of drinking coffee in solitude, listening to Christmas music alone before travelling to the home of her sister or of friends to observe the holiday of people with families and children that were not quite her own, to open her gifts in others' homes. No, this Christmas she needed the coffee as she never had before, for she had stayed up late the night before, carefully arranging her daughters' gifts into separate piles. This Christmas she was awakened earlier than any time before by an excited knock on her door, and Faith's eager voice asking if she and Sheena could go yet into the living room.

This Christmas, her eardrums had been pierced before she was quite awake with gasps and shrieks and squeals of joy and excitement, and she had been repeatedly hugged by girls so enthusiastically they did not realize they were actually causing her pain. This Christmas her entire living room became strewn with paper and boxes that had taken Diana so long to wrap and the girls four seconds to maim, and their high levels of energy and emotion was exhausting to witness. This Christmas was Faith nearly cutting the coffee table in half from her enthused but unfocused handling of her new sword, Sheena's tears on her hands from wiping the overwhelmed and deeply touched girl's face, and stern warnings to both girls that while grateful hugs and kisses to each other may be expected, any further wandering of hands was not permitted in Diana's presence.

The day was long and tiring even before noon came, and it was like no Christmas Diana was used to, nor had encountered before. But neither, she knew, was it for her daughters…and that was what made it beautiful. Watching her girls open their gifts, seeing the joy it gave them, gave Diana joy she had never known before, and she knew she would never again experience Christmas in the same way.

Chapter 16: P is for Presents
P is for Presents

Faith could face four vampires head on, with no back up, and come out glowing, nothing but scratches and maybe bruises to show a fight had ever occurred. She could scale buildings and vault herself over fences, do a spinning backflip kick into enemies' chests, and break people's bones without so much as skinning her knuckles. She could run miles without getting out of breath, dance for hours, and decapitate armies of the undead.

But when it came to wrapping Christmas gifts, it was like she couldn't move with any degree of skill or coordination at all. Slayer of the wrapping paper, mangler of the tape, THAT was her new title.

Faith let out an exasperated huff, glowering as she stared down at the third time in a row she had attempted to wrap the same gift. The first time she had torn a hole in the paper; the second time she had twisted the tape so badly it would no longer stick, and the third time she had accidentally taped down a section of her own hair, resulting in mangling the tape, ripping out hair, AND tearing the paper. Frustrated, she had ripped the paper away and threw it across the room, tempted to throw the scissors and tape too.

Maybe she should just use freakin' gift bags…they made those things for a reason, didn't they?

Chapter 17: Q is for Queensized Bed
Q is for Queen-sized Beds

"That's what you want for Christmas?" Diana asked with more than a little suspicion, her eyes narrowed with thought as she faced her adoptive daughter straight on. "What you want for Christmas is a queen-sized bed…a 16-year-old wants a BED for Christmas?"

Faith nodded, her eyes too wide, her face too deliberately blank in a manner that Diana had begun to recognize as her attempt to appear earnest and innocent when she was anything but.

"Yep, that's what I want, Diana, a queen-sized bed. That's what I want most."

"And what exactly is wrong with the bed you have, the bed with a very comfortable mattress and which doesn't take up half the space of your room?" Diana crossed her arms, arching an eyebrow, and watching Faith's face closely as the girl fumbled for a reply that she thought would be to her liking.

"Well, it's kind of small, you know? It's a twin bed…and it would be nice, you know, if I had a bed that gave me more room-"

"You are 5'5" and weigh120 pounds," Diana cut her off, eyes narrowing further as she looked at Faith steadily. "How much room does a girl of your size need? I would think you had more than enough space for yourself, Faith."

"Well, yeah, there's enough space for ME-" Faith started, and then, seeming to realize that she had already said too much, she quickly cut herself off, the guilty expression becoming more pronounced on her face as her eyes shifted away.

So then, Diana knew, it was exactly as she thought. The reason Faith would ask for a queen-sized bed, when her own bed was perfectly comfortable, was not because there was not enough room for her, a young woman several inches shorter and a good many pounds lighter than Diana herself, but because a twin bed did not have enough room for both her and the 5'9" Sheena to coexist comfortably in for long. And that was the reason she had been looking for and expecting.

"I don't think Santa can fit such a large gift on one little sleigh, Faith- do you want him and his reindeer to crash down on some poor little dog or cat in the streets?" she smirked. "I think something along the lines of a gaming system would fit more easily into his pack…and yes, I do believe that a gaming system has room for two regardless of height."

Even as she turned to leave the room she saw the shock in Faith's eyes and smiled to herself, shaking her head.

Chapter 18: R is for Rudolph
R is for Rudolph

"Don't say it," Faith warned, her eyes narrowed, and Sheena grinned, her face bright with glee.

"But it looks just like it…all swelled up and puffy, and it's-"

"I said don't say it," Faith snapped, hands unconsciously forming fists, but Sheena was not to be deterred. At least, not yet.

"So much for Slayer reflexes…he was all, "Hey squirrel!" and you were all "Huh, blink, what," and BAM, straight in the kisser- blood gushing everywhere, I thought it was broken at first-"

"Can we move on already?" Faith growled through gritted teeth, but Sheena, blue eyes shining with her enjoyment of the reminiscence, barely heard.

"And then you called out a string of swears I think you made up on the spot, and sent your stake SPIRALING into his chest-"

"Legs, give it a rest-" Faith said in a dangerous tone, but Sheena plowed forward, openly snickering now.

"And I had to steer you home, and didn't even get in trouble for following you this time because Diana was distracted by your gushing blood, and now with your nose so bright, guiding my way home tonight-"


"I'm gonna have to call you Rudolph," Sheena finished, then leapt to her feet as Faith began to give chase.

Chapter 19: S is for Snowmen
S is for Snowmen

"This is why she dragged us out of bed practically at the crack of dawn…not for school, or training, or because the world's about to end…but to make a SNOWMAN?" Faith said incredulously as she stared ahead of herself towards Diana's back. She was talking to herself as much as to the groggy Sheena beside her, but it was Diana who responded with a firm cheerfulness that bugged her as much as if she had thrown a snowball directly into her face…something she wouldn't put past her this morning, the way she was acting.

"Not just a snowman, several snowmen. It's a contest. Whoever can make the tallest snowman doesn't have to do dishes for a week. Whoever makes the snowman most resistant to a good hit doesn't have to wake up until 20 minutes past the usual rising time for a week. And whoever makes the most aesthetically interesting snowman can open a Christmas present early."

The girls, where they stood shoulder to shoulder, heads lowered against the cold, yawning frequently and appearing decidedly less than thrilled to be present, snapped to attention at this proposal, eyes brightening. They had both thought Diana was completely crazy, to pull them out of bed on a Saturday and make them come out in the cold before they'd even woke up a little. But if those were the stakes, well, they'd freakin' well go with it.

"Hey, no fair about the tall snowman part, Sheena has four inches on me!" Faith protested even as she got to work, beginning to pack and roll snow as carefully as she could to make it firm.

It didn't' take long for the girls to forget they were sleepy and irritated, to forget that it was a weekend and all they had wanted was to be able to sleep in bed, preferably in one bed. Within a few minutes they were shouting at each other and laughing, flinging snowballs and insulting the others' work. One well-aimed throw into Faith's face by Sheena caused them both to abandon their work entirely as they gave chase, Faith seeking to overtake Sheena, shove her down, and rub her face in the snow, and Sheena trying her best to outrun her.

And all the while Diana was right there with them, flushed and laughing, throwing snowballs of her own, working with determined skill on her own snowman…and when Sheena ran by, she snagged her arm, hitting her with a snowball of her own before bursting out laughing. It was a side of her that Faith and Sheena rarely saw, a side that could just come down to their level and play, and it was a new knowledge they deeply appreciated.

Chapter 20: T is for Tapping on Rooftops
T is for Tapping on Rooftops

"See, there it is again!" Sheena hissed, her blue eyes wide, glued to the ceiling as she jabbed a finger towards it, and Faith followed the direction of her gaze, her brow furrowing.

"I still think you're nuts-" she started, but then she heard it again. Strange noises above their heads, like rhythmic tapping…almost like footsteps, like someone walking on the rooftop. And seeing as it was after midnight on Christmas Eve, that was very strange indeed.

"You had to have heard it that time!" Sheena insisted, voice hushed, mouth close to Faith's ear from where she sat close to her on Faith's bed, clutching her arm unconsciously as she continued to look up towards the ceiling. "It was like footsteps. It was like-"

"It's not footsteps," Faith shook her head, though her expression was more doubtful and startled than her tone, and she didn't shake off Sheena's grip. She had been far from happy a few minutes ago when Sheena climbed into her bed and shook her awake, hissing that someone was on the rooftop, but now she too was alert and wondering. "It's just a squirrel or something, okay?"

"That's the biggest fucking squirrel I ever heard in my life, then," Sheena scoffed. "Faith, someone's on the roof, and it's not a squirrel."

"Well what the hell do YOU think it is, then, Santa Claus?" Faith sneered- but the words were no sooner leaving her lips then both girls heard the distinct sound of bells, jingling and jangling as the patter of steps continued.

Both girls froze, almost holding their breaths as their eyes bulged. Then, meeting each other's gaze slowly, they pulled away from each other as Sheena got to her feet.

"Maybe I should go back to my bed," she whispered in a voice that was barely louder than a breath, and Faith nodded hurriedly, agreeing.

"Yeah, maybe…hurry up, go!"

As Sheena slipped out the door and down the hall, intent on making it to bed and closing her eyes as though in sleep as fast as possible, just in case, Faith closed her eyes too. She knew perfectly well there was no Santa…but…well…this time she wasn't taking chances.

And up on the rooftop Diana smiled to herself as she stomped around several more minutes for good measure, shaking her string of bells, before dismounting down the ladder she always left for Sheena at the side, slipping back into the house…but not before leaving the bells well hidden in a bush.

Chapter 21: U is for Under the tree
U is for Underneath the Tree

"Faith Lehane, you step away from those presents or risk being force fed fruitcake," came Diana's voice suddenly from behind her, and Faith snatched her hands back hurriedly, giving her Watcher a quick grin that more accurately reflected her guilt than her innocence as she attempted to explain.

"I was just seeing if there were any for me."

"Yes, seeing- and fondling, and shaking, and likely licking and smelling too before you got through with that look," Diana said dryly, none the fool, but her lips were curved into a smile as Faith grinned, not denying it.

"Well if you put a few under the tree, that's like begging us to guess what they are."

"I didn't see a sign commanding you anywhere about," Diana smirked, "But if you are so fascinated with the underneath of a tree, Faith, there is a different aspect of it you should focus on instead."

"On what, dropped pine needles?" Faith rolled her eyes, but Diana was apparently serious.

Kneeling somewhat awkwardly, smoothing down her skirt to make sure it covered her legs and thighs, Diana adjusted herself in such a way that she was lying on her back, her head underneath the lower branches of the Christmas tree, looking up from beneath.

"Come and see, Faith," she patted the floor beside her. "You will see what I mean."

Faith stared at her, more than a little taken aback by what she saw as a strange and uncharacteristic action on Diana's part, but she moved to lie down beside her, joining her in looking up.

Through the tangle of branches and pine needles, she could see form the tree's interior a system of bright balls and lights, garland and tinsel, candy canes and bows, and though it was all the same decorations she could see from the outside, somehow it was different, looking at it from this view, and just as beautiful in a different way.

"Wicked," she said softly, and Diana smiled.

From under the tree, they heard footsteps approach, and then Sheena was staring down at them, more than a little thrown by their bodies sticking out from beneath the tree.

"What are you guys doing?" she asked, and Faith grinned, patting the floor beside her.

"This is what we're supposed to do instead of molest presents…don't ask, just join."

And as Sheena shrugged, then made a place for herself beside her, the three of them looked up in silence together.

Chapter 22: V is for Visitors
V is for Visitors

It was early Christmas Eve when the doorbell rang, and the three of them looked at each other, puzzled. They had planned to have a relaxed evening, and no company was expected.

"Was someone supposed to come over?" Faith asked, glancing over at her Watcher, and Diana shook her head, as surprised as the girls.

"I didn't' ask anyone…I suppose it's possible someone decided to drop by, but it's getting late, and it seems an odd hour to…and especially today."

"I'll get it," Sheena volunteered, getting to her feet, and Diana cautioned her quickly.

"Don't invite anyone in without checking with me first, Sheena, you know that."

Sheena managed a quick nod, though she did roll her eyes slightly as she made her way out of the living room and towards the front door, opening it and peering outside. But as she took in the sight of the man standing before her, unshaven and slump-shouldered, fingers stained yellow with tobacco, smelling strongly of alcohol where he stood swaying on his feet, she froze, fingers white around the doorframe as stared at him with heightening shock and horror.

"Hey, Margaret," the man slurred, giving her a loose grin even as he looked at her with eyes that were narrow and hard as she remembered. "So this is where you've been hidin' out…gonna invite your old man in, or leave him standing out in the cold?"

Sheena swallowed hard, neither stepping forward to join the man- her father- out on the porch, nor stepping back to make room for him to come inside the door. She just stood, her legs suddenly numb, and made the effort to look at him with no expression as her heart pounded with a rapid, frantic pace in her chest.

"How did you know I was here?" she asked as calmly as she could manage, and her father chuckled without humor, shaking his head as he took another step closer.

"You always thought you were the sharpest tool in the shed, Margaret…where you think you got it from? It damn well wasn't your ma. No, that's straight from your old man, Margaret…Ab Sadovsky's no fool, not gonna hide out from ME if I want to track you down. Knew I'd turn you up and out if I just got to lookin'…"

"Ab," Sheena said carefully, the word heavy in her mouth, difficult to form, as she tried to push back her panic, to continue to stand tall and strong even in the face of her worst fears now standing before her door. "Ab, you need to go home now."

"ME, go home?" Ab blustered, his eyes widening, one arm flinging out indignantly in such a way that Sheena flinched, certain he would hit her. "Look who's talkin', Little Miss Smartass, you been runnin' since before you grew any tits! All I hear every time I go out is Ab Sadovsky's daughter, skippin' town again, climbin' towers, actin' like a damn man, and who the hell you think you are, callin' me Ab anyways? Girl your age oughtta have some damn respect, call her daddy Pa or somethin', not run her mouth like-"

"Pa," Sheena interrupted him hurriedly as her eyes darted, hand tightening further on the door, desperate to head him off. "Pa, please, just go-"

"Sheena? Is there a problem?" Diana spoke from behind her, and as Sheena's head swiveled, she almost melted between relief at Diana's presence and simultaneous fear at what might now occur as Diana came to stand behind her, laying a hand on her shoulder as she looked first at her, then at the disheveled, swaying figure on her porch. "May I help you, sir?" Diana asked him politely, but her slightly narrowed eyes and furrowed brow made it clear she was wary.

For his part, Ab appeared to be grimly amused by her appearance. Looking Diana up and down, eyes lingering on her hand on Sheena's shoulder, he shook his head, chuckling.

"Sheena, huh? That's what you're goin' by now, eh? Is that right?"

He chuckled again, shaking his head, and gave Diana a smile that was more of a smirk as he continued. "That ain't her name. She tell you that's her name? Guess it beats LEGS, anyway- you believe that, girl this size, went around callin' herself LEGS, like a damn hoodlum, a damn boy? This here is MARGARET, Margaret Ann. I'm Ab Sadovsky- that's my girl there…and I've come to take my daughter off your hands…come to take her home."

For a few moments nobody spoke; all, even Sheena, seemed stunned into silence by his declaration. Sheena's coloring drained steadily, her muscles tensing further under Diana's hand, and as Diana took a firmer grip of her shoulders, she could feel the girl trembling beneath her grasp. Sheena's generous lips were pressed so tightly together they nearly disappeared into a thin white line, and though she did not speak up to protest, Faith, now standing behind her with quick fury balling her fists and flooding her cheeks, was more than willing to do so for her.

"Like fucking hell you are!" she almost yelled, taking a threatening step forward as her chin lifted, eyes narrowing, seeming more than ready to fight. "You're not taking her anywhere!"

"Faith," Diana spoke without turning to face her, eyes still fixed on Ab, her voice quiet but very firm. "Faith, please allow me to handle this."

"He can't do this!" Faith's voice rose further, the aggression of her posture evident in her tone as well as she took another step, seeming intent if necessary on simply pushing past Diana and Sheena to get to Ab. "He can't just fucking come here after all this time and fucking take her, not when she doesn't want to go! Not when he's-"

"Faith," Diana's voice rose slightly, but Faith was far from finished.

"I will NEVER let you take her, I'll fucking beat you into the ground so you can't even THINK of-"

"FAITH." It was very rare for Diana to raise her voice to such a volume, though she was not shouting, and certainly to speak so sharply, and it was the two facts combined that made Faith swallow back the rest of what she was going to say, even as her face continued to burn with anger and resentment.

Diana turned her head to eye her steadily, speaking more calmly but with measured authority in her tone.

"Faith, if you feel you will not be able to control your emotions, please go to the living room. That is not an option you are free to disregard. If you think you can manage to do so, then you are to allow me to speak with Mr. Sadovsky without giving any input of your own."

Faith glowered, but said nothing, nor did she stalk off to the living room. Diana watched her closely, measuring her ability to obey, before, satisfied, turning back to Ab, keeping her hands firmly on Sheena's shoulders.

"You are her biological parent?" she asked him quietly, but there was a steely edge to her tone, a deliberate emphasis on the word biological that Sheena did not miss.

Sheena swallowed, taking a step back, closer to Diana, heart still racing as her shoulderblades lightly brushed the woman's front. Diana wouldn't give her up without a fight…that was what she hoped, anyway.

Ab squinted, one hand brushing at his shirt front, then nodded. "Yeah, she's my kid…I'm on the birth certificate, ain't I? S'posed to be with me, ain't she…her own pa? That's the law, ain't it?"

New alarm struck her heart at this, for Sheena suspected he was right. After all, hadn't part of the reasons for her being sent to juvie included truancy and running away? Could he really force her back to him, or to juvie, by involving the law?

"Diana-" she said anxiously, lifting her eyes towards her, but Diana squeezed her shoulders gently, rubbing her thumb in a soothing manner over her shoulders as she kept her eyes on Ab.

"She is your biological daughter, and you are her legal guardian? You are legally responsible for her care…is that what you are saying, Mr. Sadovsky?" she asked, and Ab nodded impatiently.

"Yeah, yeah, right, like I said, she's my kid…so it's time she gave it up and-"

"If this is true, and you readily acknowledge it, then please explain to me, Mr. Sadovsky, why your daughter- a minor child in your guardianship, whom you have yourself stated to be your responsibility- you tell me why a child in your care was living for years on the streets, hungry, cold, and ill, forced to result to thievery and even more personally damaging means to survive," Diana interrupted in a voice as sharp and cold as an icepick, her eyes boring into Ab's so hard that Sheena caught her breath, shocked to hear her speak in such a way…but also gratified and relieved.

Ab blinked, taken aback, and shifted his weight, his own body tensing as he too lifted his chin, thrusting out his hands in a defensive gesture, nodding jerkily at Sheena.

"You gonna blame that on me, lady? You ain't got your facts straight! I done what I could with this kid, and there ain't no one who can control her better! Ain't no person alive gonna make that girl stay put if she wants to go. She's always been a troublemaker…always runnin' off, makin' sass, gettin' in gangs, gettin' in trouble with the law…she done been to jail already, she tell you that? Didn't even know for sure she was still alive…lasat time she run off, she don't even tell her own pa she ain't dead, she tell you that? Stealing cars, gettin' in fights…out with every boy in town-"

At that last accusation, something hot, hurting, and furious spread through Sheena's chest, and she could not keep herself from replying as her face flushed, head jerking up to stare him in the face as she fiercely disputed the claim.

"You are a fucking liar!" she almost screamed, and she was even more infuriated that hot tears came to her eyes, despite her rage. "I never let a boy TOUCH me before YOU lied about me in court and got me put away! I never TOUCHED one, that was AFTER, and it was YOUR fault! What they did-"

"Sheena," came Diana's voice in her ear, soft but authoritative, as it had been with Faith, as she rubbed her hands soothingly up and down her arms. "Please let me handle this, child."

As she continued to rub Sheena's arms, Sheena took in a shuddering breath, bringing herself under control. As Diana's hands returned to grip her shoulders, she addressed Ab again with continued ice in her tone.

"You stated yourself you cannot control this child…yet I have had her in my home, under my care, for months, and she has been very respectful and respectable, and a joy to be around. Would you care to explain to me how the child I know is the same child you have described?"

Even in her distress Sheena felt her lips curve slightly into a pleased smile, her face warming. Had Diana really just described her as a JOY?

But of course, as usual, her father had an answer. No matter if it made sense or was true.

"She's comin' up with some kind of scheme, would be my guess," he slurred, and he listed slightly to one side before righting himself, pointing a shaking finger at Sheena. "Getting' on your good side…probably gonna steal you blind, or-"

"You fucking liar, I would NEVER!" Sheena exploded, her body rigid beneath Diana's hands, eyes bulging, and Faith made a lung towards him before Diana moved to block her, again sharply calling her name. Now lightly kneading Sheena's shoulders rather than just hold them, she spoke softly into her ear.

"Sheena…let me handle this for you, sweetheart. I promise I will not let you down."

Sheena swallowed, feeling the hot tears come to stand behind her eyes again as she glared in Ab's direction, but she fell silent, letting Diana speak for her, even as Ab pointed to her, antagonizing her further.

"You hear that…hear what she called me, her own pa? That's the truth of her- that's the mouth she's got!"

"You call your daughter a lying, troublemaking, promiscuous criminal…and yet you want her back," Diana stated quietly, and Ab nodded, not seeming to realize the lack of logic.

"Girl belongs at home," he declared again, pointing at her again, Diana seized upon the words nodding emphatically.

"Yes, and that is exactly where she is now."

Ab blinked, slow confusion crossing his features, and Diana's blue eyes grew as icy as her voice as they bore into his, clarifying her stance.

"There are ways to raise children that do not make with the use of physical violence, excessive consumption of alcohol, and emotional and physical neglect. You, Mr. Sadovsky, unfortunately, have a brain and heart too pickled with alcohol to see it. It will be a cold day in hell before I allow you to take this child. SHEENA is not going anywhere that she doesn't wish to, and I will think that you will find that you cannot take nor keep her short of kidnapping and then confinement. If you even think of doing so, or of harming me or my other daughter in any way, I will be delighted to call law enforcement. If you do not leave my property now, Mr. Sadovsky, and never contact this child again, I will report your decided lack of guardianship and blatant abuse and neglect of her, and I will seek full legal custody of her. Even if I did not have the connections that I do, you would lose. So if I were you, Mr. Sadovsky, I would go. Now."

It was all Sheena could do to keep from sagging back against her, wild relief and gratitude pressing against her heart. As it was she could not keep from smiling. Ab, however, did not share her happiness, and he stuttered indignantly, taking a step forward that she guessed was supposed to be intimidating.

"You can't keep my kid…that's stealing!" he blustered, but at Diana's face and the menace in Faith's posture, he quickly amended his words. "Well…if you're gonna keep her…you'll have to pay me-"

"What do you think she is, a fucking doll?" Faith nearly screeched, and Diana did not correct her this time. She merely continued to stare Ab down.

"As I said, Mr. Sadovsky, I think you had better leave, before my daughter can no longer control herself."

A few moments passed in which no one moved or spoke, Ab's eyes darting. When he took a slow step back, Diana took the opportunity to shut the door in his face and lock it, looking through the keyhole to be sure he was leaving. Sheena didn't' realize she was holding her breath until Diana pulled back, speaking to both in a normal tone.

"It's all right, girls, he is gone."

Immediately, the perilous control Faith had been keeping on herself evaporated, and she grabbed Diana's arm, shaking it as she growled, "Let me at him, Diana, just one punch- ONE PUNCH! You heard what he said about her- you heard what he-"

"Let him go, Faith. Men like that will create their own destruction," Diana stated, and Faith groaned.

"I won't destroy him, I'll just hit him ONE TIME-"

But Diana was waving her off, ignoring as she turned to Sheena, looking at her with such concern and tenderness in her gaze that any words Sheena had planned to say withered into nothing in the face of this obvious love for her, showing even without her attempts to excuse or explain…even after Diana had seen and heard the worst of Sheena's fears, the worst she could imagine appearing at her door.

Diana did not say anything. She merely drew Sheena into her arms, cupping the back of her head as she guided it to her shoulder. And as Sheena wound her arms around her tightly, burrowing against her as she let herself be held, she felt the terrible fear she had carried since she first saw her father's face slowly fade away.

Chapter 23: W is for Wishes
W is for Wishes

When she was younger, and her friends had asked her what she wanted for Christmas, Sheena had always had a careless reply waiting, a safe reply, one that would not worry them or make them look at her differently, with pity or unease. She would name the year's most popular toy, a list of cool weapons or gadgets, and when she was older, she would simply laugh scornfully, declaring that she was too old to go for all the Santa and Christmas crap. She would never have dreamed of telling anyone that what she really wanted for Christmas, each and every year, was not gifts at all, not anything she could buy…what she wanted was for her far-fetched secret wishes she harbored every day of her existence to at last come true.

She didn't want toys or games, weapons or gadgets, anything that she could buy or steal. What Sheena wanted was security…love. A home she felt safe to spend time in, that she could show her friends without shame…a home that always had food and heat and was reasonably clean, a home with her own loving mother rather than random women, usually drunk or high, coming and going every week. A father who hugged her and spent time with her, who touched her not out of anger and violence, but in love. A father who was sober and coherent…a father who cared whether or not she was alive. She wanted all of this, and it would have been more than enough for her…it would have been a miracle.

And now, to some degree, much more so than she would ever have thought possible, she had it. She had a home with more than enough clothing, food, and necessary care, as well as more extra possession than she had dreamed. She had a mother figure in Diana, who gave her guidance and discipline more than equaled with warmth and affection, and she had both a sister and a lover in Faith, as she had lost with Maddy. When Diana asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she could think of nothing she could get her when Sheena already had so much.

But still she harbored wishes, but knowing that they could not be granted, she did not share them…after all Diana had done for her, how could she not let her think she had no other desires?

Still…if she could have two wishes granted this Christmas, no matter how far-fetched, Sheena knew without having to think about it what they would be. She would wish to know her biological mother somehow, to have pictures and anecdotes, more memories, to get a better sense of the person she had been. She knew little about her mother, remembered her with vagueness, and all her life she had felt this lacking sharply, wanting to have her in her life. She knew she could not have her mother…but to hear about her, to know her…perhaps that would ease the lingering sense of her loss, of the injustice of her absence.

And the other…it was not that it was impossible, as with her mother…it was just that Sheena was afraid of the outcome, of what she might learn, if she were to seek to obtain the knowledge she desired. It had been over 18 months since she last saw her baby half sister, Evangeline…it had been almost two years since Evangeline was born. When Sheena saw her last she had been still struggling for life, living in the special infant unit of the hospital, premature and sickly, her lungs improperly formed. She had not been allowed to touch her or hold her, nor had Evangeline's mother, Muriel. Looking at her baby sister's blue-tinged skin, Sheena had simultaneously felt fierce rage and sharp pain to see someone she loved so completely, so helpless and weak, with nothing she could do to help.

Evangeline had not been expected to live, though Sheena had railed fiercely at anyone who implied as much. Muriel had struggled to pay for her to stay in the hospital, and it had seemed every time Sheena went to see her sister, every time she looked into her tiny half formed face, that she made no improvement. It was one of the things that had killed her to leave behind…to think that her sister could grow up, or worse, die, without ever knowing how fiercely Sheena loved her, how she would have killed for her…and in fact, almost had.

What Sheena would want was to know that Evangeline was alive and well, strong and healthy, enjoying a Christmas of her own. What she would want was to see her…to be able to squeeze her tight, kiss cheeks that were rosy red instead of blue, and tell her she loved her…how much she had always loved her. How she always knew she would pull through.

But as strongly as Sheena wanted this, she feared just as strongly to discover that it was not possible, that Evangeline, like her mother, was gone. So she said nothing, leaving her wish unrealized for another year to come.

Chapter 24: X is for Xrays
X is for X-rays

"This," Diana stated dryly, rolling her eyes upward and exhaling heavily, "was not my idea of how to spend Christmas Eve. And it certainly was not the location I would have chosen."

Ducking her head guiltily, Faith apologized for the sixteenth time in one hour, nervously crackling her knuckles as her eyes flitted between her Watcher and Sheena, shoulders slumped. "I'm sorry…Di…Sheena….I'm really, really sorry. I didn't mean-"

"It's okay," Sheena tried to assure her, even as her face remained pale and strained with her pain, and the hand Diana was holding for her support was squeezed hard, betraying her nerves. "You didn't mean it, I know. I heard it enough to know by now," she added with a slight grin, but Diana wasn't letting her off the hook so easily. Though she did not raise her voice, the irritation in her tone and the steady way she continued to level her gaze at Faith was more than enough to deepen her shame and discomfort.

"It is NOT okay. I do realize it was an accident, and that you feel badly for it…but I have told you both, time and time again, generally at least once a day, that you are not to spar together without my supervision. When you get excited, Faith, you do not know your own strength, and you lose control of it, and I warned you both repeatedly that Sheena would be hurt one day as a result. But of course, the both of you disregard this, and here is the result- sitting in the emergency room on Christmas Eve, which happens to be a very busy night in the hospital as well as the rest of the world, waiting to get x-rays because from what I can tell, you have managed to break not only Sheena's arm but also her clavicle. Yes, I am sure this is how we all imagined we should like to spend Christmas."

Faith lowered her head, biting her lip, as Sheena looked between the two, her brow creasing further as she saw the tears standing in Faith's eyes. for a moment, they remained in heavy silence.

Then suddenly Diana laughed, shaking her head, and though the sound was as much weary as amused, when she squeezed Sheena's hand again, she also lay a gentle hand on Faith's shoulder.

"Well, I'll give you girls one thing…this isn't a Christmas we'll likely forget any time soon. Especially with the bill I 'm rather afraid to look up that will be an especially lovely Christmas surprise…"

Chapter 25: Y is for Year
Y is for Year

With Christmas fast approaching, and the New Year just around the corner, it was Diana's way each year to take time to reflect on the year passing by, to make time for memories of what had occurred and how she might handle her mistakes more effectively in the year to come. And this year had certainly given her more fodder than any year before to think about…for this year, Diana knew with certainty, had been the busiest and most important year of her life that was likely to ever occur.

She had thought the previous year had fit that bill, for that had been the year she adopted the then fourteen-year-old Faith. Diana at the time had known very little about teenagers, beyond her readings, memories of her own youth, and common sense, and her first year of raising Faith, both as her potential Slayer and as her child, had been far from dull or easy at any given time. By the time Faith had turned 15 at the end of the year, their relationship had settled into one of mutual warmth, trust, and affection, and Faith herself had changed her behaviors enough that Diana had imagined it would never be such a challenging time of adjustment again.

Of course, she should have known better than to allow herself to think such a thing, for that was always an invitation for a chance to be proven wrong. For if she thought raising one active, impulsive teenager was chaotic, she had had no idea how it would be to have two.

This year had brought Sheena to her doorstep and into her life and care, and before long she had a 15 and a 16 year old both living under her roof. With Sheena, as with Faith, the scars ran deep, and it had taken extensive time and effort to begin to heal some of the girl's more urgent wounds, to accustom her to what it was to be safe and loved. This year, with Sheena added to the mix, had brought Faith's calling as a Slayer and all the worry and fear this brought Diana, the extra time and training needed to make her the best and most protected she could be, even in the face of Faith's attempts to buck against her safeguards. This year had brought extra expenses, extra work and attention required of Diana for Sheena, a home with considerably more noise, fighting, and mess than the year before. This year brought Diana much more stress, worry, and just plain irritations with the two girls to worry about then she had ever had the year before, with only Faith. This year, Diana got less sleep and time to herself, and less confidence by far that if she were to leave the house, it would still be standing when she returned.

And yet as many things as Diana had had less of this year, there was infinitely more that she had gained. This year she had had more laughter, more opportunity to view things from the eyes of a child who could still despite it all occasionally look at the world with the wonder of the little girl she still could sometimes be. This year there had been more verbal and physical affection, as Sheena was a demonstrative girl, and a softened Faith became more likely to follow her lead. This year she had the chance to watch Faith fully love another person as she had always hoped she would one day learn to do, the chance to watch two girls grow, knowing she had a hand in their changes. This year she had two daughters, her family doubled, and this year, more than any other, Diana had felt and received more love than any year before it.

Looking back, she did see mistakes, both her own and those of the girls she called her daughters…but giving it serious thought, she would change nothing. She could only imagine what the next year would bring- for it seemed that now, anything truly was possible in her future.

Chapter 26: Z is for Zzz
Z is for Zzzz

Christmas day was finally coming to an end, not to arrive again for another full year, and Diana could not say she was sorry to see it go. The preparations each year were extensive and frankly, exhausting, and she suspected people genuinely needed that much time to prepare again. Between the baking and decorating, buying and wrapping and opening and cleaning, it seemed a month of work went into one day over so quickly it scarcely seemed to exist at all. The children- or even teenagers, in the case of Faith and Sheena- were whipped into a frenzy of excitement that crashed by the day's end, and from then on it was time to brace oneself for next year. Still, it had been a lovely, if tiring day, and Diana was left with a weary contentment, knowing and feeling happy and warm inside to remember how much Faith and Sheena had enjoyed themselves.

Her girls were clearly tired too, and in fact, as Diana entered the living room, she saw the both of them were asleep on the couch, heads leaned at awkward angles on each other's shoulders, bodies comfortably slumped against each other, Sheena's arm wound loosely around Faith's torso. Faith's mouth was open, Sheena's hair half hiding her face, and the two slept with their faces relaxed, so peaceful and young in their appearance that Diana smiled, feeling her heart squeeze slightly with tenderness towards them.

Moving quietly, so as not to wake them, she lifted an afghan from the loveseat nearby and spread it over them. Then, briefly regarding them, she smoothed their hair off their faces, giving each a gentle kiss on the forehead before backing away. Moving to unplug the Christmas tree lights and blow out the candles on the mantelpiece as well, Diana quietly left the room, heading upstairs towards her bedroom.

It had been a very merry Christmas.

The end