By Elsa Frohman
Summary: A Christmas gift. Warm hands. Hot toddies. Songs of praise. Holly and mistletoe. Fresh snow and church bells. What more could a Slayer ask for?
The kettle began it! Don't tell me what Mrs. Peerybingle said. I know better. Mrs. Peerybingle may leave it on record to the end of time that she couldn't say which of them began it; but, I say the kettle did. I ought to know, I hope! The kettle began it, a full five minutes by the little waxy-faced Dutch clock in the corner, before the Cricket uttered a chirp.
And so it began -- with the kettle boiling on the stove in the Summers kitchen. It whistled merrily, sending out a plume of white steam that condensed in the air turning the atmosphere moist and inviting.
"Chamomile tea?" Willow asked brightly as Buffy came into the room. "Soothing herbal goodness..."
"No thanks. If I get soothed, I'm going to fall over," Buffy said with a sigh. "I think a can of Red Bull might be more in order."
The Slayer looked right knackered -- at least that's what Spike would have said if he was here, Willow thought. Her friend's hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail, her shoulders were rounded and there were dark circles under her eyes. She'd neglected her makeup, and she was as pale as the vampires she dispatched nightly.
"Might not be such a bad thing," Willow said carefully, "if you fell over, that is. You need some rest. It's Christmas Eve. Give yourself a break."
"I'll rest when..."
"We're going to find him. But in the meantime, it won't do any good for you to push yourself into a collapse."
Buffy leaned against the counter and sighed. "Can't sleep anyway. If I drift off, the dreams..."
"Perhaps Willow could give you a sleeping potion," Giles said as he came through the kitchen door. "Something that would keep the dreams in check. You really do need to get some rest."
"And I'm Grinching everyone's Christmas," Buffy said with a sigh.
"Nobody faults you for being worried," Willow said. "But right now, there's not much that can be done."
"And you've done that exceedingly well," Giles said.
Willow poured the boiling water from the kettle into the teapot, covering the china vessel with a crocheted cozy.
"I have a little present for you, Buffy," Willow said, glancing over at Giles.
"But we're exchanging gifts in the morning..."
"I know, this is something extra." She picked up a little folded envelope from the counter, and handed it to her friend.
Buffy turned it over in her hand. "What is it?"
"Be careful, there's powder inside."
"A little more than that."
"Um... I know you mean well, but..." Buffy glanced over at Giles.
"It's all right," Giles said, answering the unasked question. "Willow and I discussed it, and I think she's come up with something that may be very good for you."
Buffy frowned slightly. "Like having my memories erased?"
"No!" Willow said, sounding a little hurt. "Nothing like that at all. And notice, I'm telling you about it and putting it in your hands -- no surprises, no unilateral action. I've learned that lesson, thank you very much."
"Sorry... I didn't want to sound ungrateful. I'm just so tired..."
"And that's what this is about," Willow replied.
"But you said it was more than a sleeping potion..."
"It's a dream spell. A nice, safe, relaxing dream spell."
"So I won't have a Slayer dream?"
"Well, you shouldn't. You'll have this dream instead. And you've got total control over what it will be about."
"So if I want to dream about Brad Pitt and me..."
"Well, you could. But what this is really good for is travel."
"You've always wanted to travel, haven't you? You can go anywhere, any time you're curious about. Just have a nice little one-night holiday."
"Anywhere, any time?"
"Then I could go to where the First has Spike and find out..."
"No!" Giles said, reaching out and taking the little packet from Buffy's hand. "That would be highly inadvisable. To do that, you'd have to let the First into your sleeping mind. A very, very bad idea."
"Then I can't use it for anything useful..."
"Taking a break would be useful," Giles said gently. "You're pushing yourself too hard. You need more than sleep. You need to give yourself a chance to unwind."
"Giles is right, Buffy. This spell was developed for researchers -- so they could go and see how things were in the past. But it's only good for trivial research. It would be very dangerous to try to use it to discover something evil."
"OK, no evil. Little vacation... so, how does it work?"
Giles put the packet back in her hand.
Willow poured a mug of herb tea and put it on the counter next to Buffy.
"You take this mug of tea upstairs with you and get ready for bed. Before you lie down, you put the powder in the tea and drink it. Then you write your request on the paper." She handed Buffy a ballpoint pen.
"Anywhere, any time? How does that work? If I've never seen
Paris, how can I dream about it?"
"That's the magic. There are -- well, I guess you could call them echoes -- of every day that has ever happened. They're just out there in the ether floating around. So, say if you wanted to talk to Einstein on the day when the Theory of Relativity occurred to him, your sleeping consciousness would be transported to an echo of that day and place. But Einstein'd be speaking German, of course, so it probably wouldn't be that interesting for you."
"What if I had my Berlitz phrasebook with me, and I told him to give it up; it's all nonsense -- and he should get a haircut?"
Willow laughed. "It wouldn't make any difference. You're not at the real event -- just an image of the event. You can do anything you want; it won't change anything."
Buffy looked at the little packet. Lines formed between her eyebrows as she thought.
"But if it's just an image, why would it be dangerous to..."
Giles looked like he was going to snatch the packet back again,
so Buffy closed her hand around it.
"Because a being as powerful as the First will maintain a connection with all the images of itself," the Watcher said. "Don't try it. It's not worth the risk."
"I mean that, Buffy..."
"I get it. Light, fluffy, relaxing dream. No big bads."
There was a sharp, almost metallic chirping sound, and Buffy flinched.
"What was that?"
Giles shrugged. "Sounded like a cricket."
"Cricket? As in bug? Bugs in my house? Where's the Raid?"
The Englishman chuckled. "I wouldn't worry about it. A cricket on the hearth is good luck."
"Really? He must be one lost little cricket then. When's the last time there was any good luck in this house?" Buffy said with a sigh.
Willow picked up the mug and put it in Buffy's hands, wrapping the Slayer's fingers around the warm china.
"Merry Christmas, Buffy. Now, go have a nice holiday."
Continued in Chirp the Second