The Twelve Days Of Christmas - Day Three
written by Karen Jephson




"...I thought her eyes would pop out when she saw the amount on the certificate. Oh, and I got this one," Dawn held up a top that seemed to her audience to be very similar to a dozen others she'd shown them, "to go with that skirt. You know, the one with the frill. I'll go show you."

"No! We remember it. Don't we, Giles?" The other man nodded desperately. "Why are we getting to see all of this now? Wouldn't it be better to wait till the others are here?" The almost pleading tone in Xander's voice appeared to go unheeded.

"Because the others saw them last night when I got back. You two were out carousing." The two men tried to look guilty, but didn't quite get the expressions right. Sighing, they settled back and accepted their punishment. "Anyway, she said I could open an account with the rest of the money, so I can go and shop there any time I want. And don't worry Giles." She preempted his attempt to speak. "I can only spend what's on the certificate, no more. And Buffy already checked."

"I'm surprised there's any left." Giles pushed against a rather large pile threatening to fall and drown him in cotton, nylon and various other materials. "I don't suppose you had a chance to visit Harrods too?"

"Course I did. I only had about half an hour there. They set up an account too. I'm going back today to do some major shopping. Oh, Xander. Buffy says you have to go with me to stop me from going too crazy. After I bought her a bottle of bubble bath too." Dawn shook her head.

"That you had used."

"That's okay. I bought myself one too."

Xander's head had dropped to his hands. "Dear God, no. Why can't Buffy go with you?"

Giles shifted uncomfortably. "She's following something up. She thought she saw." he wasn't sure he wanted them to know about the face from the past she'd glanced on the street. "It doesn't matter."

The two younger people looked at each other, confused. Xander opened his mouth to probe further when a shrill whistle made them both jump. "We have a telephone?"

"Of course we have a telephone. This suite is fully equipped."

"Why haven't we ever used it before?" Dawn looked around for the offending item.

"Because you're all busy using your cell thingies."

Xander's eyes opened wide as he realized the direction that Giles was heading in. "That's a real telephone?"

Giles had almost reached his target. A brass and pearl stand-up phone with an attached hearing piece. "What else did you think it was?"

"An antique!"

"It probably is. It just happens to be a working one." He lifted the phone and removed the hearing piece from its rocker. "Hello?" A small frown creased his forehead as he listened. "Olivia?"

Dawn and Xander exchanged concerned glances.

* * * * *

She hadn't seen him at first. More of a sensing that she was being followed. Using her heightened awareness, she'd tried to find the source of the disturbance. It hadn't taken long to realize she was being followed. The previous day she'd turned sharply, and caught a glimpse of his face before he'd disappeared in the crowd. Now, she was setting a trap for him.

Waiting until she felt his presence, she changed direction, moving through the throng of shoppers toward an open market. Browsing as she walked, she made a mental note to return to some of the stalls to purchase presents for the others. She spied her target ahead. Casually moving forward, she turned into the covered section of the market. At the back was a café, serving both customers and vendors. Once she knew he was exposed she stopped at a table and turned around. Realizing he was caught, he walked sheepishly toward her.

He hadn't changed much since they'd last met. Older of course, as they all were. A few battle scars, obvious to her, but probably not to the general public. His hair was shorter, if that was possible. But he seemed different somehow. There was a stronger energy about him, a greater self-confidence. He stopped in front of her. "Hi."

"Hey Oz."

* * * * *

"Ow!"

"You're lucky that's all I'm going to do." Buffy released the red ear, allowing her victim to straighten and move out of her way. "What do you think you're doing, following me?"

"Sorry, bad habit. Reconnoitering, making sure the coast is clear."

Buffy tutt-ed. "Always a soldier Riley?"

Her former boyfriend smiled. "Hey, guy's gotta stick with the one thing he's good at."

"You were good at a lot of things. You just didn't know it."

Riley cocked his head. "That sounds awfully grown up."

"Even slayers have to, some time. Watching your town destroyed and good people killed does that."

Riley sobered. "I was sorry to hear about Anya." He pointed toward a restaurant across the street. Time to talk business, and the middle of a thoroughfare wasn't the best location for that. He'd determined it was time to contact Buffy and Giles that night, however she'd beaten him to the punch. "Can I buy you a drink? We need to talk."

Buffy pursed her lips, mulling over his offer. "Sounds serious." When he didn't respond she nodded, pulling out her cell phone. "I better call Giles. He's in charge of serious."

* * * * *

Giles scanned the uptown bar, looking for his quarry. Spying her at a table across the room, he made his way toward her. The call he'd just received from Buffy concerned him, but he knew she could handle any problems. Her pique at finding out his destination was quite pleasing. Nice to know he could make his girlfriend jealous.

"Rupert. Thanks for coming." Olivia rose and offered her lips for a kiss. A frown of consternation surfaced when he turned it to a friendly peck on the cheek.

"Always a pleasure to see an old friend." The two settled down as a waiter approached. Ordering their drinks, they waited until he'd left before resuming their conversation. "I was surprised to receive your call. I didn't believe anybody knew we were over here."

"An old friend saw you the other day. 'With the prettiest little blonde you ever saw.' I think he was trying to make me jealous." Olivia laughed, fully expecting Giles to share in the joke. When he merely smiled an uneasy silence settled upon them, broken only when the waiter appeared with their order. She leaned forward, looking intently at him. "You look different somehow. More, I don't know. More relaxed, and very self assured."

Giles didn't try to stop his first genuine smile since meeting her. "I was rather desperate in Sunnydale, wasn't I? Trying to prove my worth by reflection."

"I didn't mean."

"No, it's alright. After all, I wouldn't have dragged you into my world if I hadn't been that desperate. It was an unsuitable match for both of us."

Olivia paused, obviously trying to work out if she'd been insulted. "I'm sorry I wasn't strong enough for you."

Contrite, Giles leaned forward and rested his hand upon hers. "It wasn't a matter of strength. We wouldn't have worked out anyway. I was looking to you to replace somebody that was irreplaceable. And once you'd realized I'd cheated you, you would have quite rightly slapped me and left."

"Does she know?"

"Who?"

"The woman who's making you so very obviously happy."

"Ah." Giles smiled fondly. "Yes, she does."

"And is she strong enough?"

"More than. We strengthen each other." He didn't know how to tell her exactly who this person was. During their conversation over the telephone Buffy had warned him Olivia might not express joy at his news.

Olivia's eyes widened as she worked through what he was saying. "Rupert, should I have been jealous of the 'pretty little blonde'?"

* * * * *

They'd found a quiet table in the corner, not wanting to be disturbed by passing shoppers. Sipping at their drinks, Willow realized this was the first time she could remember feeling awkward around Oz. Except for that time he'd found out about Xander, of course. She decided it was time to stop being silly. This was Oz! "How did you find me?"

He lowered his cup. "I didn't, exactly. I was in London when I saw a redhead on the street one day. I still look at any redheaded girl. Force of habit." He smiled gently at her. "I didn't think this was my Willow, though. Wrong coloring, different energy level. Then you turned around."

"Why didn't you just come up?"

Oz shrugged. "I wasn't sure of my reception. Besides you were with somebody. A pretty brunette."

"Oh." She couldn't stop the slight blush grazing her cheeks. Somehow she felt as though she'd been caught cheating. "That's Kennedy. She's, um, she's my."

"I know. It's cool" He paused a moment. "I heard about Tara. I'm sorry."

Willow looked away, trying to hold down her emotions. The mere mention of her love's name could still sometimes hurt. "I really loved her. She was my other half, you know?"

"Yeah, I do."

She looked down. "Did... did you hear about what happened... after?"

Oz nodded. "I heard about that first. I couldn't believe it was you, until I heard about Tara. Then it made sense."

She looked up, surprised at his lack of censure. Then she remembered this was Oz, who never blamed. "I almost destroyed the world. Luckily Giles and Xander were there. I had to learn to live with myself, and accept my power. I didn't want to touch magic again."

"But you did?"

"Yeah. It's what I am. I understand that now. I guess that's why you thought I was serene. I'm not, but I'm happy with me." A sudden thought crossed her mind. "Oz, your folks got out of Sunnydale."

"I know. And yours?"

"Hadn't lived there for years. We're cool, but they're not part of my world any more." She smiled at him, feeling more relaxed now. "And what about you? Why are you in London?"

"For a gig." At her questioning look, he continued. "I rediscovered my music. I'm with a band. We do mainly small venues, travelling around Europe, that kind of stuff."

"And what about," she looked around, making sure nobody could hear, "you know, the three nights a month thing."

"Will, we're called The Werewolves." When she didn't understand, "Because we all are."

"Oh. Oh! Wow!"

"It's how we met up. We were all trying different things to control that side of us. We've worked out a pretty good system, but if any of us slip, the others are there to take care of them."

Willow shook her head. "I think Giles would like to hear about this. I know the others will want to see you. Will you come up?"

"Why don't you all come to one of our gigs? Giles can talk to us all then. If he can stand the music."

Willow giggled. "He's more loose now. Buffy's been working on him."

"Buffy?" At her nod, a look of wonderment crossed his face. "Wow. Not sure I saw that coming."

"None of us did. But they make each other happy. And she's under threat of death from Dawn if she breaks his heart."

"Will." Oz hesitated. "I met somebody."

Willow felt a pang of jealousy, but she realized she was also very happy for him. "I'm glad. Is she one of the band?"

"No, but she's a werewolf too. She's our roadie. We, um, we have a son."

"Oz, that's wonderful. Did you think I'd be upset?"

"I said I'd wait. She knows about you. You're still my world Will, but they're my life."

Willow laid her hand on his. "You'll always be the guy I'll want to settle down with, but girls kinda do it for me now. We aren't kids any more, Oz. And I love you enough to want you to be happy."

They smiled at each other, reaching a new understanding about their relationship. "You'll meet her tonight, at the gig."

"I can't wait."

* * * * *

"So, what's the serious business?"

"That can wait a minute." Riley looked her over closely. "How are you, Buffy?"

She looked back at him. "I'm good. Over the suicidal tendencies and attraction for the wrong guy." When he flinched, she grimaced with contrition. "I'm sorry. That was cruel. I was thinking more of Spike and Angel than you, but we were wrong for each other, Riley."

He nodded. "I know. I was too busy trying to prove I was a better man than you to be the man for you." He hesitated. "When we heard about Sunnydale I thought you might have died, again."

Buffy shrugged. "It was a close thing. But this time mine wasn't the ultimate sacrifice."

"Who's? Anya's?"

She smiled, knowing he won't like the answer. "Spike." She was right. "He'd gotten himself a soul to be 'worthy' of me. I thought I owed him, so he became part of the group."

"I bet Xander wasn't happy about that."

"He wasn't the only one. I was being blind, selfish Buffy again, and almost destroyed a lot of relationships because of it." She became silent for a moment, remembering the most important relationship that had almost gone beyond recovery. "It took Spike making the ultimate sacrifice to make me realize. It was his first and only unselfish action, and it made me see me, and him, for what we were."

"Wow." He paused, obviously trying to find the right words. "I've been sent with a proposition."

"From the Initiative?" Buffy shook her head incredulously. "You know how well I work with authority."

"Not you." At her querying look he continued. "Like I said, I thought you were dead. Then we heard of a blonde slayer in Las Vegas. I thought it wasn't your usual stomping ground, but was happy to find out you were alive. The second report of a slayer was in Peru, where one of the locals was building quite a reputation for herself. I figured either you or Faith hadn't made it. Then the news started coming in from all over the world. Girls everywhere with superhuman strength fighting demons. A couple of months ago I ran across one of them. She knew all about me and the Initiative. Her name was Rona?"

Buffy nodded. "She was with us in Sunnydale. Now she's one of the recruiters, finding the girls and bringing them in to be trained. There's a camp not far from Cleveland."

"Giles idea?" At her nod, he continued. "Have you thought of the potential? An army of slayers, given the right training and contacts."

Buffy straightened, suddenly angry. "You want to recruit them. Make them part of the Initiative." Before he could respond, she continued on. "The Council's gone, destroyed by the First Evil."

"All the more reason why you need organizational help. You can't do it all by yourself, Buffy."

"We have done. And we've gotten a lot of them safely to our facilities. I empowered those girls so they can have the choice. They don't even have to fight if they don't want to. And now you want me to replace one male-oriented authority group with another?"

"I think my wife might have something to say about the bias on males."

"She's the exception, not the rule, and you know it." He had no comeback for that. "Why must you all want to enslave the power of the slayer for your control?"

"They're not all like you, Buffy." His sentence, an echo of what somebody had said to her a few months ago stopped her interrupting him again. "Some of them might need that authority. The routine of training, and knowing you're part of a team. You may not be a team player, but can you say the same of every other slayer?"

She looked down, mulling it over. Finally, she raised her eyes back up to him. "I'll have to talk it over with the others. We're a committee now, and a decision has to have majority rule. Plus, I want Giles' advice on this."

Riley nodded. "Any chance I can see them? I'd like to catch up with Xander again."

"I'll ask. We'll need to organize a neutral place. Rupert won't like bringing it into our home, even if it is temporary."

"Rupert?" The confusion was obvious in his voice.

Buffy smiled, feeling happier than she had in the past hour just thinking about him. "I told you I stopped turning to the wrong guys."

* * * * *

"The Dry Cleaner said they'll try to remove the stain, but expensive silk isn't easy to clean." Dawn closed the door behind her as she spoke. She noticed the sudden quiet of the room, and realized she'd disturbed a conversation when she'd entered. "Am I interrupting something?"

Buffy shook her head. "We were just talking about Riley's offer."

"The slayer army?" At her sister's nod, the younger Summers joined the group sitting on the sofas. "Do we trust him?"

"Riley's not the problem. It's the Initiative I don't trust."

"They're not all Professor Walsh, love." Giles took the Dry Cleaning receipt off Dawn. "Did they say how long?"

Buffy smiled. "I warned you Olivia wouldn't be happy about us."

Giles shifted uncomfortably. "Yes, well. I thought she might be more mature than to throw a cocktail on an expensive suit, in the middle of one of the most prestigious hotels in London."

Xander wagged his finger. "Never underestimate a woman scorned."

Giles sighed in frustration. He'd had to put up with their teasing all night. "Need I remind you who scorned whom?"

"Guys, what are we going to do about the Initiative?"

They all looked at each other after Faith's question. Giles spoke up. "Unfortunately, Riley's right. Some of the newly activated slayers could do with some added discipline."

Buffy wrinkled her nose. "Can't think why." She and Faith shared a conspiratorial smile. "Well, if we're gonna do this, we need to set some conditions."

"Don't forget we've all got a date tonight." At their looks Willow continued. "I didn't want us to get into a big discussion and forget the time. Which we do. Often."

"Don't worry Will. We all want to go see Oz play." Xander rested his hand on his best friend's shoulder. He looked toward Giles and Buffy as he had a sudden thought. "That'd be a neutral place."

"And it'll be a reminder to us, and Riley, what can go wrong if we trust the Initiative." Willow hadn't forgotten the torture they'd put her ex boyfriend through, all in the name of science.

Buffy looked at Giles. He thought for a moment before answering. "It'll be too noisy in the pub. I know the area though. There is a place nearby. We'll set up the meeting for after Oz's gig."

Buffy pulled out her cell phone. "I'll call Riley and let him know."

"In the meantime, let's set out our conditions."

* * * * *

In the end, Riley had asked to meet them at the pub. He'd wanted to see Oz. He still felt guilty at the treatment the werewolf/man had received at the hands of his superiors. Due to the noise level, it wasn't possible to discuss his proposition, so they all sat back and enjoyed the performance.

Willow leaned closer to Giles. "I think he sounds better, don't you?"

Giles smiled. "It's a bit hard to hear over the noise, but I think his playing has improved. Mind, it helps that the rest of the band is much better than Dingoes."

Willow smiled, then turned back toward the stage. Giles had noticed her looking around the crowd. He assumed she was trying to spot Oz's girlfriend. He glanced across to Kennedy, wanting to see how the younger slayer was coping with meeting one of Willow's ex lovers. He smiled at her when she returned his look. She shrugged, then turned back to the stage. Though she appeared her usual confident self, he could tell by the set of her shoulders she was nervous. Fortunately, so had Willow, as the witch was wrapping her arm about her girlfriend.

The crowd cheered as the set ended. Oz acknowledged his friends as he set his guitar down and grabbed the hand of a girl standing by the stage. Their progress was slowed by the congratulating crowd as they made their way toward the others. Giles and Buffy exchanged a glance, both concerned about Willow. Their friend surprised them both when she left the table to meet Oz and his girlfriend. The three talked for a few moments before Willow reached over and hugged the young woman. Grabbing her other hand, she dragged the two of them over to the table.

"Guys, this is Marta. Some of you might remember the guy with her." Greetings and introductions were made over the next few minutes. Xander and Oz exchanged a friendly hug, their conversation mainly about Anya and Xander's new look. The embrace between Oz and Buffy was less enthusiastic, but genuine all the same. Kennedy and Oz were uncomfortable with each other, but that was expected.

Eventually the younger man stood in front of Giles. "Hey."

Giles nodded, taking the extended hand warmly. "I see you've been working on that extended 'g' chord."

Oz smiled. "Yeah, thanks for the tips." He pulled his girlfriend to his side. "This is Marta."

Giles smiled. "Welcome, Marta. I hope we aren't too overwhelming for you."

She shrugged. "You're Oz's family. His other family are worse than you guys."

Giles and Oz exchanged a smile. "All that hugging and kissing?" He looked down at Buffy who'd moved to his side. "It's time to go."

Oz looked up. "Already?"

"We have a meeting to attend. It's near here. We won't be long. In fact," he looked over the young couple's heads, "here's our contact now."

Oz turned around, then nodded stiffly. "Riley."

Riley nodded, but his eyes were on the girl beside Oz. "Well Agent, are you ready to come back?"

The others looked up in shock. Willow stepped forward, anger in her gait. "You're one of the Initiative? You know what they did to Oz?"

"Why do you think I left?" The bite in Marta's tone was sharp. "After Oz bit me."

They all interrupted. "Wait." "He bit you?" "Oz?" "When did..."

"Guys." He didn't raise his voice, but they all stopped speaking. "It's cool. Marta was a technician at the Sunnydale lab. I accidentally bit her when they were doing their experiments. She came to find me after she realized what had happened to her. She was afraid of what the Initiative would do to her."

"We wouldn't have hurt you, Marta. You were one of us."

"Like you were before you rescued Oz?" Riley had no answer for her. "I'll keep with my own kind, thank you."

Buffy turned to Giles. "Maybe we should rethink this. How can we trust them?"

He shook his head. "We can't, but it isn't our decision to make." He looked across at the soldier. "Let's get this over with. We've secured premises near here. Oz, Marta, you're welcome to join us."

The couple looked at each other, then nodded. "I have a feeling this is going to affect us."

"Let's go."

* * * * *

It used to be a warehouse in better times. Now it was just another abandoned building in one of the seedier parts of London. Giles had found it among the Council's list of properties. Knowing nobody would be in a position to inspect the property or investigate any nighttime visits, he'd determined it the perfect place for their meeting. He'd arranged furniture to be delivered that night.

They stood in a circle, Riley in the center. The message was clear. The decision was made by all of them. Make one wrong move he'd have to answer to every one of them. Buffy nodded to the others as she sat down. Once they were all settled she spoke. "We've discussed your proposal. Personally, I'd like to tell the Initiative where they can go. But you were right this afternoon. Not all of the slayers are like me. There are conditions."

Giles leaned forward. "No conscription. Each slayer chooses her own path."

Willow spoke up. "Any of them wants to leave, they can."

Faith took her turn. "No suicide missions. They're not your canon fodder."

Xander nodded. "You keep in contact with us. We'll choose somebody as a liaison. If we're not happy with anything, we pull the plug."

Riley had been still until that comment. He began to shake his head. "We need some control. We can't keep running to you for every assignment. And we need to make sure you understand our point of view."

Oz looked at his girlfriend, the silent communication between them going virtually unnoticed. He turned toward the others. "I may have an answer to that. Marta and I can act as go between. I know you guys well enough to know what you want, and she can give the Initiative's viewpoint."

Giles looked at the others, receiving nods of agreement from each of them. "That would be acceptable." He looked toward Riley.

"I'll have to clear it with my superiors, but I don't think they'll oppose the idea."

Buffy nodded. "That's the main conditions covered. There are others, but they can be hashed out. Robin will be negotiating on our behalf. He'll arrange a meeting with you and your representatives. I won't give the green light until he, and I, are happy."

Riley nodded. "Fair enough. I'll be in touch after I report back to my superiors."

The meeting broke up, the others drifting away. Willow left with Oz and Marta, wanting to see the baby, and to catch up with her old boyfriend. Kennedy went to patrol, allowing Faith and Robin a night out. Eventually only Xander and Dawn waited for Buffy and Giles. They stood, preparing to say goodbye to Riley. The younger man extended his hand to Giles. "She says you make her happy. I'm glad. She deserves it."

Giles' lips twitched as he took the hand. "It helps that she's started going out with a man, instead of boys." He held tight as Riley flinched. "We'll wait to hear from you." He released Riley's hand at the other man's nod. Neither he nor Buffy offered a farewell as the soldier left the building.

Buffy punched Giles' arm. "A man instead of boys?"

Giles rubbed the damaged area. "Do you know how long I've been wanting to say that to him?"

They joined the other two, their voices echoing into the silent room as they exited. "Well, you certainly picked your timing."

"I think it was cool."

"You're just grateful he extended your bedtime."

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Three Old Loves
Two Gift Certificates
And a Star On A Christmas Tree


Proceed To Day Four