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

He stood at the window, peering out into the gloomy morning. His spirit felt more kin to the gray clouds that covered London than the brightly decorated tree with its flashing lights and skirt of presents. The tree blocked most of the access to the window, but he'd found a spot at one end that allowed a glimpse of the life that created the heart of the great city.

His right thumb twisted the ring on his finger, his mind absorbed by the dark thoughts that resided there. When the others were about, and he could immerse himself into their lives, their worries, it wasn't so bad. But at times like these, when there were no distractions, the darkness filled him, overwhelmed him. Not just the thoughts of the past, and those he'd lost, but of the future, and what it might hold for him. Or not.

After the other day, the despair had dissipated a little. After all, he knew there was a future for him, a moment of brightness, if he wanted to take it. But what happened before that moment, and after, still remained shrouded in mystery. He'd always looked for the guarantees, the promises that the future would hold something for him. That was why he always appeared to be optimistic to the others, but it was also why he ran. Not from danger, but from an unknown future. It was why he'd abandoned his bride. He knew it was a legacy of his childhood, and his parents' marriage. But that didn't change his attitude.

But now, he didn't know. He had no idea of what the future held, or what he wanted from it. A few minutes of joy were all he had to cling on to. And he wasn't sure it was enough. Because before he could have his future, he had to face the present. And that was what drew him down to the depths of despair. He knew they'd keep him with them, that they'd tell him how much they needed him. And they could all live on that lie for years to come. But the truth was, he had nothing to contribute. How many buildings could he build, how many windows repaired? And he had no idea if he could do those things with one eye. In Sunnydale, and in their last home, he'd managed a gang. They'd respected him, but he'd not had to do the actual building for some time. And if he started again in England that was what he'd have to do.

Willow was staying. They all knew that. Kennedy would return to America with Faith and Robin. A lot of Giles' work was in England, and Buffy often traveled to Europe to find slayers. He'd heard the two of them whispering about Dawn. She would leave soon too. To obtain the formal education she needed and craved. Ironic how Dawn, out of all of them, was most likely to get a degree and become one of the new generations of Watchers. Which left him. Whose one skill for the group was virtually redundant. After all, how many inspirational speeches could you give? Buffy'd found that one out the previous year.

It wasn't just that. He was tired, of the monsters and demons, of the constant battle against evil. He needed a break, if only just for a while. Time to try and remember what it was like to be a normal guy. Maybe then he'd be able to find out what he had to offer his family. He'd once told Dawn that normal was good, that you could contribute in ways nobody could guess. He was just running out of ways.

"Have you worked it out?" Xander spun around. He hadn't heard the older man enter the room. "The meaning of life?"

He smiled. "Wasn't it 42?"

"Only if your name's Arthur Dent, and your friend's Ford Prefect. Personally, I always thought it was knowing if it's an African or European Swallow. " Giles waited, obviously expecting Xander to spill. What he didn't realize that what worked on a Seventeen year old wouldn't work on a Twenty Three year old.

"I was thinking about what happens next. Cause, I don't know. I'm not sure..." he paused, wondering how the other man had managed to make him talk "...I'm not sure if I belong here any more."

Giles tilted his head slightly, obviously taking Xander's words very seriously. Funny, but he didn't seem surprised. "You'll always have a place with us, Xander. You know that. But that isn't the issue, is it?"

"No. No, it's not."

"When will you tell the others?"

He didn't know whether to be relieved there would be no argument, or disappointed the other man gave in so easily. "I don't know. I'm not even sure I know what I'm going to do." He turned back toward the window. "I miss it, Giles. The sun. Even in winter, we had the sun in California. I just feel like I need to stand in the light for a while."

"When you're ready, let me know. I'm aware that with Anya's bequest you have no financial problems. But there are other issues I might be able to help you with."

Xander faced back into the room, suddenly feeling very grateful. What do you say to a man who's been a father, a friend, and a mentor to you? Unfortunately, there was one thing he had to say that Giles wouldn't appreciate. "I don't suppose you want to tell Buffy for me?"

* * * * *

"I'm telling you, something screwy's going on around here."

Buffy sighed in exasperation at her sister. "We always have something screwy going on. I was just hoping for one Christmas without the screw.iness."

"What's wrong?" Faith exited her bedroom, followed closely by Robin. Willow and Kennedy were already in the sitting room. Giles and Xander were on different expeditions, neither volunteering the purposes for their journeys.

"Nothing's wrong." Buffy gave Dawn the look destined to shut her sister up. Unfortunately, Dawn had developed a backbone in the past couple of years.

"Dawn thinks there's something mystical going on."

Faith laughed. "Yeah, like that's never happened before."

Dawn jumped up, agitated. "Guys think a minute. What came yesterday?"

"Dawnie, you know what came. The rings." Buffy smiled in gratitude at Faith. The other slayer returned her smile, a little embarrassed.

"Yeah, but how many?"


"And what happened the day before?"

Willow answered. "We went to see Giles' aunt. You'll love her, by the way. She..."

"What happened there?" At Buffy's censure look at her interrupting the witch Dawn apologized. "Sorry, Willow."

"Dawn, we told you. We saw a possible future."

"For how many of you?"

Something began to click in Buffy's mind, and she answered more cautiously. "Four."

"And Monday?"

This time Faith answered. "Three blasts from the past."

Robin leaned forward, his excitement indicated by the tenseness in his body. "You mean you think that...."

"And on Sunday I got the two gift certificates."

Buffy stood up then forced her sister to sit down. "Which you'll lose access to if you don't stop interrupting people."

"But what about Saturday?" They all looked at Kennedy. "What came Saturday?"

As one, they turned to look at the Christmas tree.

* * * * *

Xander made his way wearily through the foyer of the hotel. He'd been out most of the day, at Giles' suggestion. Just walking through London, visiting tourist places, museums, even caught a show at the famous West End. But mostly, he'd been thinking. He still hadn't decided what he was going to do, but somehow the pressure seemed less. Placing his hand on the doorknob to their suite, he tried to summon the usual cheerful face he presented to the others, but knew he was failing miserably.

"Xander, where have you been?" Willow's concern was mixed for some reason with excitement.

"A parcel came for you, and it's big!" Dawn grabbed on to his hand, pulling him further into the room.

He shrugged. "Well, why didn't you open it?"

"Because it's for you." Buffy helped him remove his coat. "Have you eaten?" At his nod, she continued. "Good, because Giles said we should go without you."

The two men nodded. Xander wondered at the grin that threatened to escape across Giles' lips, but wasn't given time to investigate further.

"It's over here." Dawn pointed at the parcel. It was fairly large. Rectangular in shape, it was as wide as their television and about a quarter of its depth. "You have to open it now."

"Dawn!" Buffy's warning was heeded, barely.

Xander looked at them all in confusion. "What's all the excitement about?"

Willow looked at Buffy before answering. "Dawn has a theory."

"Well, as long as it doesn't involve singing." He stepped over to the box, running his fingers over it.

"Actually, in a way it does." Buffy explained how Dawn had linked the happenings of the previous days to the carol The Twelve Days Of Christmas. "Your present is our test."

Xander shook his head. "So, if I have six things Dawn's theory's right, but if there aren't six things in there, she's wrong?"

They all looked uncomfortably at each other, realizing how foolish it sounded when he said it. Buffy mumbled. "Something like that, yeah."

Xander sighed, then felt for the tape that sealed the box. "Well, if it'll give me peace, let's test away." Pulling at the tape, he released the flaps. They all looked down, sighs of disappointment echoing around the room. There was another box inside, though this appeared to be fairly small in depth. Xander lifted it out, then stared in wonder at the remaining contents of the box. "I-is that what I think it is?"

"Well... if you think that's a state of the art DVD player, then it is." Awe echoed through Buffy's voice.

"Wow. I mean, it blows my theory out of the water, but wow!"

"Not necessarily." Robin indicated toward the box in Xander's hand. "What's in there?"

Xander looked down, loathe to unlock this mystery. Knowing he'd get no peace from the others, he set it on the coffee table. Pulling at the sealed joins, he exposed the contents.

"Oh my god! There's six of them." Dawn squealed. "I knew it! I knew it!"

Xander noticed the look Buffy threw Giles. Something clicked. "This is from the two of you!"

The two of them looked decidedly guilty. Buffy glared at her lover. "But as far as I knew there were only five DVD's."

Xander looked down at the titles, barely hearing Giles. "B-Buffy thought you might like the full set of Star Trek."

Several yells of "Star Wars!" echoed through the room.

"Don't worry Xander, I showed him which ones to buy."

Xander smiled as he ran his hand across the five boxes, each telling a separate installment of one of his favorite series. His hand halted at the sixth box, unable to believe his eyes. "Oh man! I can't believe it!"

"What is it?" Buffy tried to get a closer look. "Oh, no."

"Pirates Of The Caribbean!" Xander couldn't stop the huge grin on his face. "Man, that Johnny Depp made the pirate look cool again." His fingers touched his patch slightly.

He turned when he felt a hand on his arm, surprised to notice it was Dawn's. "You made it cool long before he did." They shared a look, and Xander began to wonder if his fortune had indeed been told the other day.

"Sometimes, we're so involved in the past and the future," they all looked up as Giles spoke, "that we forget to live in the present. Merry Christmas, Xander."

Xander swallowed the lump in his throat, understanding the meaning in Giles' words. He nodded. "Thanks. So, which one do you want to watch first?"

On The Sixth Day Of Christmas My True Love Sent To Me
Six DVDs A Playing
Five Scooby Rings
Four Fortunes Told
Three Old Loves
Two Gift Certificates
And A Star On A Christmas Tree

Proceed To Day Seven