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

She rested her head on his bare chest, the graying hairs tickling her nose slightly. He was still sleeping. She could tell by his steady breathing. After months of living together, sharing the same bed, she had become attuned to the subtle changes in his body as he transitioned from a deep sleep to a state of wakefulness. It still amazed her how he could become fully awake in just a moment. There was no stage of semi-consciousness for him. He'd once joked it was because he'd had enough semi-conscious moments with the amount of times he'd been hit over the head.

For now she was happy to allow his warmth to cover her, keeping out both the external cold, and the internal fears. She could feel it happening. They were all getting ready to move on. Kennedy had announced her intentions the previous night, Robin and Faith were preparing to return to America, and Willow was spending more time with the coven that Giles had introduced her to the previous year. Even Xander seemed different somehow, as if he was pulling himself away from them all. And Dawn.

Dawn. Thankfully her sister had had access to two of the smartest people on the planet, so her education hadn't suffered from the loss of their home, and the constant travel. Giles said she could apply for and obtain a post almost anywhere. Buffy knew it wasn't fair to keep Dawn on this nomadic life. Her sister deserved a life as close to normality as she could manage, and that meant a proper formal education. So they had already started making inquiries as to suitable colleges and universities. The only unknown factor was where. Giles wasn't sure where they'd end up. And Dawn hadn't wanted to live on a different continent from them.

She wasn't ready to let any of her family go. She'd already lost too much, they all had. But she knew she couldn't hold on to them forever. Willow was destined for something beyond what they could offer her. Buffy knew that, and Giles had agreed. And Xander deserved whatever happiness he could grasp onto. As much as she wanted to hold on to him, she knew she owed him more than his freedom. But that was all she could offer.

Buffy sighed. After the visit to Agatha she knew that her future was more promising than she could ever have hoped for. She would also have another family, one larger than the current group had grown to be. But still, it hurt to say goodbye. Faith, Robin and Kennedy weren't so bad. But the others were all that had separated her from certain death or an existence of darkness. How could she find the strength to let them go? How could she be sure that they would find each other again?

* * * * *

The silence was broken only by the turn of a page, or the pressing of a computer key. There was an unknown evil afoot, and the gang were doing what they always did when they needed answers, researching. A sharp rap at the door disturbed the occupants of the room. At Giles' signal they hid the demonology books they'd been researching, and Willow turned off her laptop. He had an idea who was on the other side of the door. But he didn't want to take any chances. Turning the knob his suspicions were confirmed.

"It won't do, Mister Giles. It won't do at all."

Giles sighed. "Benedict. What now?"

"Do you know what she's done this time?"

He didn't need clarification of who Talbot Benedict was talking about. Dawn had become the bane of the little man's life. "I'm sure you're about to tell us." Their visitor appeared not to notice the snickers from the other occupants of the room.

"My staff came up to me and..." his lips quivered, "and demanded... demanded... an office party. Do you not know who is to blame for that? She is bringing her revolutionary ideas into the hotel, and it won't do, Mister Giles."

Giles raised his eyebrow, warning the man before him to cease his chatter. "I admit that is a tad... unusual for your establishment."

"And then!" Obviously Benedict was more agitated than usual, else he would not have dared to interrupt a guest so. "And then Colonel Hampton actually asked when the guest's Christmas party was to be. A-and if we would be exchanging gifts. Do you know Colonel Hampton, Mister Giles?"

Giles nodded his head. He did indeed know the colonel. The army officer had checked in one weekend after being decommissioned and had remained. No-one was sure which war it was. There were rumours among the Watchers that it might have been the Boer or the East India wars. Either way, the colonel was a permanent resident and would not have considered celebrating the festive season at any other time. It seemed as though Dawn's influence was spreading amongst the guests.

Giles patted Benedict on the shoulder. "Never mind. I'm sure next year will be better." For some reason this did not appear to bring comfort to the other man.

"I just wish." Giles held his breath, dreading what might come out of the other man's mouth, "...I just wish somebody would appreciate what I have to put up with." Benedict looked up at the tree as his spoke, a curious expression crossing his face. He might have noticed how the star at the topmost branch seemed to twinkle slightly, perhaps a catch of one of the Christmas tree lights.

Giles felt genuine sympathy for him. It wasn't easy having your world turned upside down. He'd barely coped himself. "I'll have a word with her, Benedict. But I'm afraid you can't hang all of this at her door."

The little man lowered his head, nodding in defeat. "It's just too much." He slowly exited the room. "Too much."

Giles rolled his eyes as he shut the door, then turned toward the culprit's sister. "Where is Dawn right now?" Buffy opened her mouth. "Don't tell me. She's shopping, again."

Buffy shrugged. "She's not used to having money. She'll settle down soon."

"She better, before we run out of room." Xander muttered under his breath as he passed Giles. The older man doubted if anybody else had heard him.

* * * * *

"...and I got this cute little beret for Vi. What do you think?" Dawn showed around the flower-filled millinery.

The others smiled. Giles, however, felt he needed to be the voice of reason. "You know Dawn, it's highly unlikely we'll see Rona or Vi for Christmas."

The young woman shrugged. "I know. I just kinda wish we could." Nobody noticed the Englishman flinch.

"Seems to me you'd gotten sick of having all those slayers around in Sunnydale."

Dawn looked down at her sister's words. "Well, there were lots of them. But it was more because you had time for them, but not me." Buffy closed her eyes, ashamed at how she'd treated her sister that final year. "Hey, Buffy, it's okay. I forgave you ages ago. Besides, now Kennedy's going, there'll be nobody around my own age."

Willow pushed one of the gaily-wrapped gifts further under the tree. "So, the past couple of days, have you actually spent money on yourself?"

"Some, but I can only wear so many clothes, you know?" Xander and Giles looked at each other, gratitude evident on both their faces.

Buffy smiled, knowing how the two men had suffered on Dawn's previous trips. "Well, hopefully you've finished now. We've run out of walking space."

"Sort of." A look of worry crossed Dawn's face. "There's something else I saw, but it won't take up any space here." Before Buffy could question her sister, she was interrupted by a knock on her door.

Xander rose to answer it. "This place is getting like Grand Central Station here."

A young man in a uniform stood smartly in the hallway. "I'm looking for the Giles/Summers group?" At Xander's affirmation, he presented a receipt. "Please sign here?" He then brought forward a small package. "For you. And Merry Christmas from Bingham and Broughton Jewelers." Before anybody could question him, he was gone.

Buffy looked at Giles, hoping he'd have an answer. He just shook his head. "They're one of the more exclusive Jewelers. They've done a lot of work for the Council in the past, but I'm not sure what they've just delivered."

Xander looked down at the package as he closed the door. "Well, it's addressed to the Giles/Summers party, so I guess one of you two will have to open it."

Buffy held her hand out. "You guys might want to step back, in case it's booby trapped." She grimaced as the room emptied. Slowly undoing the tape holding the flaps, she turned the package over and allowed the paper to fall away. A plain box now sat on the coffee table. Lifting the lid carefully, she peeked in. Her curiosity was increased, rather than sated. "Guys, you better get in here."

The others carefully reentered the room, Faith, Robin and Kennedy staying back slightly. Buffy indicated the contents of the box to them all. Inside were five smaller boxes, each with a nametag on them. At Giles' nod, she lifted the one addressed to herself. Giles, Xander, Willow and Dawn all followed. Dawn broached the question first. "Do you think we should?"

Giles shrugged. "I don't know of any other way to find out the contents." They lifted the lids, then shook out the articles inside each box. A deep blue jewelry box fell into each of their palms. Holding her breath, Buffy opened hers.

The box was lined with the softest velvet matching the external trim. Everything yelled distinction. But her eyes were drawn to the item resting in the center of the box. A band, its width approximately a quarter an inch, the white gold surface smooth enough to reflect her image back at her. The edging was trimmed in a pure yellow gold. She knew instinctively it would fit one of her fingers. Gently pulling it out of the box, looking up to see the others doing the same. The surprised expressions on their faces confirmed none of them were responsible for these gifts.

"Look, it has an inscription on it. I can't quite make it out." Willow indicated the markings. Buffy found a similar design on her own.

"It's Elvish, but I don't know well enough to read it." Xander shrugged.

"Bring them over here. I've deciphered mine."

"Giles. You know Elvish? You've seen the Lord Of The Rings?"

"Read it."

"Not, I suppose, the abridged version." There was only a gentle tone of mockery in Willow's voice.

"Original transcript."

"Of course. Did the Council worry people might try to find middle earth?" Xander's tone indicated nothing would surprise him.

"That was one concern. Tolkein had to submit the manuscript to ensure its accuracy."

"Original... they wanted to make sure he got it right?"

"Wrong. The elves were promised they would not be disturbed. Do you have any idea how many people have searched for the sites in the book? They would never have had any rest."

Buffy shook her head. "I so don't want to go there just yet. Tell us what they say?"

Giles took the rings off each of them. After checking the inscriptions he smiled. "Mine says 'mind'. Buffy's 'hand'." He handed her ring back to her, then passed Willow's on. "Voice. Heart." This as he returned the item to Xander. "And this," he looked up at Dawn, "'Spirit'."

Buffy felt her eyes moisten. This was it. This was the sign she'd been looking for. The symbol of their relationship to each other: the mark of her family. She looked up toward Faith. The dark haired slayer shrugged. "I'd already planned it. Robin helped me find the jewelers, and Kennedy helped pay for the cost of them. We got the idea for the inscription after Robin made me sit through that extended DVD of 'The Fellowship Of The Ring.' And the rings would be your symbol. Kinda the fellowship of the Scoobies."

"Yeah, she hated it so much she made me go out and get 'The Two Towers' the day it was released."

Willow walked over to hug her girlfriend. The rest of the scoobies surrounded the slayers and Robin, hugging and shaking hands. Buffy put her ring on, gazing at it in wonder. She felt a warm tingling in her finger. When she looked up she realized the others had done the same. The link was now complete.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Five Scooby Rings
Four Futures Told
Three Old Loves
Two Gift Vouchers
And A Star On A Christmas Tree

Proceed To Day Six