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

Kennedy sat staring at the Christmas tree, as if hoping to find the answers she needed there. The rapidly growing pile of presents only presented more questions. Voices could be heard in the bedrooms off the sitting room, but for now all was quiet. She turned at the sound of the front door opening.

Willow looked up in surprise as she quietly closed the door behind her. "Hey."

"You stopped out all night." It was a statement, not an accusation.

Willow walked slowly into the room, making her way toward the sofa where Kennedy sat. "Yeah. I kinda got the feeling you needed to do some thinking. Was I right?"

The young slayer nodded. "Yeah. I've reached a decision. I think."

"You're going to join the Initiative." Again not a question, but a statement of fact. The truth was in Kennedy's eyes.

"I kinda like the idea of being with a squad of slayers. Going to where the action is."

Willow sat on the arm of the sofa. "Have you thought about the rules you'll have to follow? Cause let's face it, you're not exactly 'take orders' girl."

Kennedy smiled. "I figured they might need some platoon leaders. That way I get to give the orders too." She sobered. "You could come with me?"

Willow shook her head gently. "No, I couldn't."

"...that's the way it is." Faith stormed into the room, followed closely by Robin. "Way it's always been."

"What kind of answer is that?"

Other doors opened as their raised voices disturbed the rest of the party. "I'm a slayer, Robin. That's what we do. We slay, then we move on."

"A slayer, not the slayer. I'm just saying you've got more choices now, Faith."

She turned away in frustration, looking frantically around the room. "No I don't. Others might, Buffy even. But not me." Spying her jacket she picked it up as she made toward the door. "My time's short. Why not enjoy it while I can?"

"But you're not talking about enjoying..." the door slammed in his face. " Damned woman." He gathered his jacket and followed her out, shutting the door more quietly.

The rest of the occupants stared at each other. Finally Kennedy broke the silence. "Is that her problem? She thinks she's going to die soon, so why bother making plans?"

Buffy leaned back against the solid presence behind her. "You know, her watcher may have been the best in the world, but..."

"No she wasn't." The pain in Giles' voice was obvious. "She may have cared for Faith, but she followed the party line. Slayers are warriors, there for a short time, but replaceable when they meet their end."

"Man." Xander shook his head. "No wonder she was always so screwed up."

"Yeah." Buffy grabbed the arm wrapped around her. "There's only one Giles. That could have been me storming out that door."

* * * * *

Faith returned later, alone. Nobody asked her any questions, afraid to cause another eruption. Instead, Giles invited her to join he, Buffy, Willow and Xander on a short journey. Admonishing Dawn to not do any more shopping, and instructing Kennedy to keep an eye on her, the five set off just after lunch.

Their journey was short, just on the outskirts of London. The suburb was one of the older parts of the city, one that still held the old world charm of tree lined cobbled streets, and Victorian houses in small rows. The taxi stopped in front of one of those houses, its difference from the others marked only by the bright pink door, and the abundance of Morning Glory on its walls.

"What is this place, Giles? You didn't say."

Giles smiled. "You'll see." Refusing to answer any more questions as they piled out of the car, he rapped his hand against the door. He turned to look at the others. "Behave yourselves here. I don't want..." He stopped as the door opened behind him. "Hello, Agatha."

"Rupert? What a lovely surprise! And you've brought guests." The speaker was one of those women of indeterminable years. Her once dark hair was liberally sprinkled with gray, its shoulder length mass a riot of curls. Her faded blue eyes twinkled with merriment. "Come in. Come in. I love Rupert's friends. They're all such fun."

Giles rolled his eyes as he followed his hostess into the house, the others closely behind. "As the last guest I brought was Ethan Rayne, I doubt that's much of a reference."

"I've always thought you were hard on that boy. He only ever needed someone to take care of him."

They were led down a passage into a room on the right. It may have once been a formal reception room. Now the mixture of furniture, the piles of books, and the smell of chemicals in the air made it into a well used and well loved room. Giles made the introductions as Agatha shooed them all in. "Lovely to meet you all. And Buffy, you and I must have a chat some time. Willow, too. I've heard a great deal about you. Now, I've just got a pot on." So saying, she moved toward the open fireplace where a bright fire warmed the room. Just above the fire was a pot, its contents boiling merrily away.

"We haven't disrupted your meal, have we?" Willow's question was full of concern.

Agatha giggled. "No, of course not dear." Grabbing a pot-holder from a nearby table, she lifted the cast iron container from the fire. "Now, we'll just let that settle." She wagged her finger at the younger people. "No peeking until its ready. Rupert love, come tell me what you need." At that the two older people left them.

The four of them sat still, not wanting to break the silence. The aroma from the still steaming pot seemed to beckon them, and each began to fidget. Finally, Faith had had enough. "Screw this." Rising, she made her way to the pot.

Buffy tried to stop her. "Faith, I don't think we should." She was cut off by Xander and Willow joining the other slayer.

"Come on B. You can't say you're not dying of curiosity too."

Buffy rose, telling herself she was only going to pull the others away. As she got closer however, she felt a strong compulsion to just peek. The four of them hovered around the pot, then looked down.

The steam rose, blinding them temporarily. Then it shifted, taking shapes and forms, before moving to the side, showing a clear, reflective fluid. They all stared as images began to appear.

* * * * *

He was at a church. He figured that much out. And from the music, a wedding was taking place. At the other end of the aisle, the bride began to approach with her father and attendants. Two bridesmaids, both slightly older than her, their blonde and red heads making perfect foils for her brunette smiled as they walked ahead of her. They were older now, maturity adding depth to their features. The redhead winked as she drew closer.

His eyes were drawn to the bride, her fine features framed by the lace veil. She was radiant, obviously knowing this was the best day of her life. The years had been good to her, turning her from a very pretty girl to a beautiful young woman. His eyes widened as he realized it was Dawn walking down the aisle, her arm held proudly by her father. He knew that they'd reconciled over time, thanks to much work by her sister's husband, and her fiancÚ.

He knew all of this, and realized that he was seeing Dawn's future. He didn't know why he was so sure of this, or why he was given this glimpse, but there was no doubt in his mind. He turned to his left, seeing Giles, his hair now fully gray. The watcher's eyes weren't on the bride, but on the matron of honor, his love for her there for all to see. Xander turned back to the bridal group, only a few feet separating them from where he stood.

Finally something fell into place. This wasn't Dawn's future he was seeing. It was his own. His wedding day, one he knew he wouldn't walk away from.

* * * * *

She felt old, her body and spirit aching with age. She was alone now. They'd all moved on. She'd buried the last of them the other day. Or was it a year ago? She forgot, time having no meaning to her. None of it did.

One of her subordinates came forward, helping her to sit upright. The bed was designed so that she could use it as a seat during the day, receiving her visitors with the least amount of effort. And so many visitors there were. For she was it, the last of the original, the final word in their organization. The power and respect she'd craved were now hers. The irony of it was she didn't want it, any of it. She'd give it all up for her eternal rest, to be with her friends and family again.

She looked back on her life, as she was want to do in her twilight days. The past always seemed more real. She'd had a good life, she knew that. There had been many lovers, male and female. Eventually she and Oz had found each other again. Ironically he'd died as Marta had, but not before she'd had him with her for many a good years. Now his grand children were among those who served her, and who helped to run their organization. His, and the others. She didn't have any. That was her punishment. To not hold a child to her breast, to have it call her mother.

Time, it meant nothing to her. Her use of magic over the years had prevented her from aging as rapidly as the others. Her wisdom had meant the younger generation had stopped her risking her life, wanting to keep her with them for as long as possible. Almost immortality was her reward and her punishment. For what was the use of living past one's allotted years if you had nobody to share it with? Nobody to talk about remembered moments, about past deeds done, of battles won. Even Angel and Spike were long gone. Their time on this earth done. Leaving her alone, always alone.

* * * * *

She moved through the cemetery, her presence not physical. A small gathering ahead drew her. The sun was still up, but it had long begun its decent into the depths, casting long shadows before it. The cemetery was now almost empty of visitors, its nighttime occupants well known in the area. Only the small group of people in front of the one grave provided a human presence.

She paused beside them, glancing down at the headstone. She wasn't surprised to read her own name there. It was what she'd expected all along. Her attention was drawn by the couple in front of her grave. He looked a little older. It was hard to tell, he still had no hair. But there were lines on his face, a few dark spots that hadn't been there when he was his young handsome self. He was smiling as he spoke.

"She always thought she wouldn't amount to anything. Here today, gone tomorrow, without anybody caring one way or another."

"She didn't figure on you." Faith looked the girl over. Younger than Robin, her complexion not as dark, there was something about her that drew the dead slayer. It wasn't her beauty, more a calling. Maybe she was another slayer. Faith snorted silently. Hadn't taken him long to replace her.

Robin laughed. "Nope, she didn't. I don't think she'd ever met anybody more stubborn than her. Man, it was a fight though." He shook his head.

The girl wrapped her hand around his arm. "One you won. You never did say how."

Robin's hand rose to cover hers. "Surprises. I made her promise to stay around long enough for me to surprise her. Every time she made noises about leaving I would spring a surprise on her. Our first Christmas... never mind. That's one surprise we'll keep to ourselves, hey, Faith? And I never made promises, or forced her to. And then there was you, the biggest surprise at all."

Faith drew back in shock. Why would this girl be a surprise to her? She wasn't into chicks, so there's no way she'd welcome her into their bed. Something was screwy here.

The girl laughed. "She told me about that. How she punched you near across two states when she found out."

"She wasn't much better when your brother came along." Robin sighed, looking up at the waning sun. "Well, we better get a move on. I'm not much up to vampire slaying any more. You know, after five years I still can't get used to her not being here."

Faith looked back down at her headstone, reading the name in full this time. 'Faith Wood'. Son of a bitch, he actually made her marry him.

"Not until you tell me how you got her to accept your proposal."

Robin smiled. "I didn't. She asked me."

The girl looked up at the man, skepticism in her eyes. "Oh please! Next you'll be telling me she had to beg you."

He laughed. "Now that is another story not fit for children's ears."

"Uh-huh. When was I last a child?" She looked around, searching among the headstones. "Come on you little monsters, time to go home." Four children ran up to her, their ages from about four to early teen. "Say goodbye to your Grandma."

"Mom, you know she never liked us calling her that."

"I don't care. She can like it now, cause she can't talk back. Now come on."

Faith watched as Robin herded his family out of the cemetery. Her family. The one thing she'd thought she'd never had. The one thing Robin knew she would never wish for. And she'd had it all. She shook her head. Her. Faith. Who came from nothing and should have had nothing. She'd had everything.

* * * * *

She walked through the corridors of the hospital. The smell of these places never changed. But at least this was a good visit. She was going to see somebody special. A joyous occasion.

Buffy opened the double door, walking into a large reception room. It was filled with women, most of who were in the advanced stages of pregnancy. They all smiled at her as she entered. She felt an affinity with each of them. Slayers? Perhaps, but experiencing something she never thought she would. Dawn was the nearest to a child she would have. She'd accepted that a long time ago. She and Rupert had already discussed the fact. She didn't know if this was a dream or a vision of the future. Either way, it was obviously reinforcing to her that she would not be like these. That she would not carry a child within her.

Sighing, Buffy walked to one of the empty chairs. She'd done this before, this waiting. She didn't know how many times, but it wasn't her first visit to this particular room. The other women left her alone, obviously aware she needed to think about what was happening elsewhere. Concern gripped her stomach, her commitment to the woman about to give birth obviously deep. She frowned, thinking she should be in there with her. But there was a reason she couldn't be. Something about a promise.

Buffy looked up as a door opposite to the one she'd entered through opened. Rupert strode through, removing the surgical gown he wore over his clothes. He smiled when he saw her, changing his direction to reach her side. She stood, worried about what he would say. Pulling her into a tight hug he finally put her fears to rest. "A boy. A beautiful, perfect boy."

"A boy? At long last. There are enough girls about."

Buffy pulled back, looking him in the eye. "Are you sure they're alright? I should have been there."

He shook his head. "After you almost killed the doctor when Shauna gave birth? She made you promise to stay out here, remember?"

A tall girl with blonde hair and green eyes smiled. "You're lucky I was going to marry that doctor, or else he never would have talked to me again."

"It was his fault in the first place. He never should have gotten you pregnant to begin with!" Buffy didn't try to temper the sharpness from her tongue.

The girls around her laughed. Giles barely refrained from joining in. "Oh come on, Mom. You say that with all of us. After your fifth grandchild, you'd think you'd be used to it by now."

Giles kissed her on the lips. "I doubt if she'll be used to it when you present her with her tenth. That's what we get for having all girls, and one boy."

"I wouldn't mind," a petite brunette spoke up, "but she even told Jonathon off. And he's her son. He still thinks I stole you all away from him."

The girls laughed, their brother's jealousy over the way everybody had taken to his wife well known. Buffy felt tears well in her eyes. Giles smiled gently, leaning his forehead against hers. "Not like the future you expected, is it?"

She shook her head. "Not a bit. Thank god."

* * * * *

"What's going on here? What are you all doing?" The four companions looked up guiltily, their minds still full of the futures they'd seen. "Oh dear. It wasn't quite ready." Agatha was genuinely distressed.

"You were told not to look. Who knows what damage you've done." Concern marked Giles' face.

Xander swallowed. "You mean it wasn't real?"

"Oh yes, yes dear. It's very much real. But I was making it for somebody else. A client. Now anything they see will be part of your visions." They all looked down contritely. "Never mind. I have time to make another batch. She's always running late."

Giles shook his head at them. "I'm sorry, Agatha. But I remember how powerful your spells can be. I doubt they could help themselves."

"That's alright dear." She turned to the four young people, a serious expression on her face. "But I'll warn you all now. Your destinies are intertwined. You saw a possible future for each of you. But for those futures to happen, the other three have to fulfil their destinies. Change one, you change the lot."

They looked at each other, remembering what the future promised them. Willow bit her lip. She remembered the feeling of tiredness, the desire for it all to end. But she knew that she wanted the life before that moment; the adventures, the loves. And she knew she would never do anything to hinder her friends' chances of happiness. She nodded in acceptance.

"Good. Now then, I was going to offer you all a lovely cup of tea, but I'm afraid I shall be rather busy making a new batch." The smile in her eyes bellied any sting in her words. "Rupert, dear, you must bring them all back another time. One when I won't be so busy."

Giles laughed. "I've never known a moment where you won't be busy. But I promise we will return." He bent down, kissing her papery cheek. "Bye, Agatha."

Each of the others said goodbye to her, Buffy and Xander also kissing her cheek. She extracted a promise from Willow for an exchange of spells. Before they knew it, they were once again standing outside her door, neither sure how they'd gotten there. Buffy gave Giles a befuddled look. "Who was that person?"

He smiled. "That was Aunt Agatha, a great aunt on my mother's side. The family seer and witch, and the funnest person a child could ever know."

* * * * *

She stood looking out the window as the lights flickered on in the street. Again, the room was quiet. People were either out patrolling or visiting with Oz. She hadn't wanted to do either, so she stood there, waiting. The sound of a door opening told her that the wait was over. She turned toward him. "Hey."

He nodded. "I came back earlier, but Dawn said you'd gone out. Did you have fun?" His guarded tone warned her he hadn't forgiven her for her outburst in the morning.

"Not exactly." She wandered around the room, her restless energy not allowing her to stay in one place. "Actually, it was kind of scary."

He huffed. "You, Faith the vampire slayer, scared of something?"

She ignored his jibe. "Terrified. You know how you feel when you realize everything you ever wanted is yours. You just have to reach out and grab it? That kind of scary."

He shook his head. "It's always been there, Faith. You just haven't seen it."

"I know. I just." She paused, trying to think how to broach the subject. "I've batted for the other side you know, and not in a Willow and Kennedy kind of way."

He looked at her, confused. It took a while for her meaning to kick in. "Oh. Yeah, I knew about that. Dawn wanted to warn me off because she thought you'd hurt me in the long run. And Giles wanted me to be more aware of the issues we'll be facing."

"Oh." She felt deflated somehow, the drama of her announcement removed. "Knowing that, how could you want me? How could anybody? I was evil, Robin. I tried to kill Buffy. All of them. Why should I deserve any kind of happiness?" She turned away trying to stem the tears that threatened to fall.

She hadn't realized he'd moved until she felt his arms around her. Cursing her weakness, she allowed him to draw her body against his. "You made a mistake. You chose the wrong side. But Faith, I also heard why. I heard how the Mayor treated you, how he was the only family you ever really had. I don't know how many of them came up to me and told me you weren't totally to blame. They're all knocking themselves out almost as heavily as you are." He shook her slightly. "Why should you be punished any more when you're doing such a good job of punishing yourself?"

She rested her head against his shoulder, thinking about the events of the day. She was curious to see how she did propose to him, but that could wait. She sighed. "Hell, I only tried to kill them. Willow tried to destroy the world and she got forgiven."

Robin laughed. "That's my girl."

On the Fourth Day Of Christmas my true love sent to me.
Four Fortunes Told
Three Old Loves
Two Gift Certificates
And A Star On A Christmas Tree

Proceed To Day Five