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

Talbot Benedict hid behind a pillar as he noticed one of THEM crossing the foyer. Admittedly it wasn't his nemesis, or the other noisy ones. In fact, this one had been fairly quiet and respectful, for an American. But his nerves were so frayed, he couldn't stand any more contact with them. Not even with Mister Giles, who he now firmly believed had betrayed every creed that the Watcher's Council had worked so hard to maintain. He'd met Mister Giles senior a few times, and there could be no comparison with father and son. He was sure the old gentleman was turning in his grave.

The young woman he was avoiding passed through the entry and then was swallowed up by the people walking along the still-dark streets of the city. He admitted to a moment of curiosity as to why she would be going out at this time of the morning, and alone. Probably up to no good. Straightening, he pulled the hem of his jacket down, ensuring he presented his usual, pristine self. Some may let themselves go, but not he.

"Mister Benedict?" He jumped at the sound of the dreaded voice behind him, but he maintained some dignity by managing not to scream. Swallowing, he steadied his nerves and turned around. She stood before him, dressed in the most inappropriate of clothes. Were she to step out in such an attire, she would surely freeze. It took him a moment to realize she'd not continued talking, and in fact seemed almost diffident. He almost let out a bark of laughter. As if she knew how. "I'm sorry for disturbing you at this time of the morning."

He nodded his acknowledgement of her very proper apology, wondering what trick she was up to this time. "Is there something I can help you with, Miss?"

"Dawn. Not even Miss Dawn, but Dawn." If he didn't know better he would think she was chattering out of nerves. She swallowed. "Anyway, I wanted to catch you before you were distracted. I know how people take up so much of your time."

Talbot was tempted to check his hearing. She was acknowledging how busy he was? Something very strange was happening. "Yes, well. I'm sure I am never too busy to help a guest Miss... er, Dawn."

She blushed, obviously embarrassed at her faux pas. "Oh, I know. You're always polite to everybody. I don't believe anybody realizes all that you do for them. Why, Giles says this place was so popular with the Watcher's Council because you always knew how to see to everybody's whims." She paused, taking a deep breath. "A-and I know I've been very troublesome to you since we arrived." She interrupted before he could speak. 'No, really, it's okay. Giles said it was hard for him to adjust to American teenagers, so I can see why it'd be impossible for you." She realized she'd said the wrong thing again. "Not that Giles is a better man than you. I-it's just that."

"Miss." He felt that if he didn't interrupt her they'd be there all day. "Was there a purpose for this conversation?"

She seemed almost relieved at his prompt. "Oh, yes. Sorry. I prattle when I'm nervous. Giles says it must be an American thing, cause we all do. Except Faith of course. But she's different." At his raised eyebrows, she finally came to the point. "So, you know I came into some money, sort of? Well, I've been shopping, a lot. A-and I found this, and." She trailed off as she held up a small, gaily wrapped box. She pressed it into his hand.

He looked down at it in shock. Nobody had ever given him a Christmas present before. He would never have accepted one from the guests or staff, of course. It would appear to create favoritism. But nobody had ever offered. And yet, this girl, this bane of his existence had done just that. He was truly at a loss about what to do. "I, um. That is I.I don't know what to say."

"Please accept it?" He heard the pleading in her voice.

"One doesn't normally." Now was the time to put her in her place, to regain control and ownership of his hotel. He could tell this little upstart of an American what she meant to him. "That is, the policy is." Only there was no policy, except his own. And he'd never had to test it before. He looked down at the little box. "I have never." there were tears in her eyes. For him, perhaps? He only knew they were his undoing. "Thank you, Miss.Dawn."

"Open it, please? I know it's not Christmas Day yet, but if it isn't right I'd like to exchange it."

He looked at her curiously. What wouldn't look right? Dear God, he hoped it wasn't one of those ridiculous ties he'd seen the Colonel wear, and that he knew she'd given the old codger. Opening the wrapping with trepidation, he was surprised to see the Harrods symbol engraved on the box. He lifted the lid, gasping at the gift before him. It was nothing elaborate. A simple chain. It may not have been solid gold. But the antique design, the cut of the metal, they all reminded him of his own loss. He cleared his throat, trying to hold the tears back.

"One of the waiters showed me your fob chain, and said how upset you were when it broke. They, that is Harrods, had quite a few, so they helped me match it." He didn't speak. He couldn't. She began to fidget in front of him, obviously concerned at his reaction. "Like I said, if it's wrong we can exchange it. Or I-if you don't like it, you can perhaps replace it for something else?"

He looked up sharply, gripping the box possessively. "No!" He tempered his voice when she jumped. "No, Miss Dawn. It is perfect, an exact replica of the one I lost. I-it was given to me by my father, you know?" He saw her nod through the tears in his eyes. "I always used to think of him when I checked my watch. Now? Why now I shall also think of you."

Her smile seemed to brighten the entire room. On what was obviously an impulse, she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. They both looked at each other in shock before she backed away then turned and ran up the stairs. It was then he noticed her sister and Mister Giles standing on the upper level, smiling in approval. At him! He sighed. "What wonderful people those Americans are." He didn't notice the staff who'd surreptitiously hovered close by during the exchange stop in shock. "I cannot understand why people complained about them. So courteous, and always thinking of others. I shall be very sad to see them go." Removing the gold watch sitting in his breast pocket, he undid the latch on the fob chain and attached it to the ring waiting for it. Both were then clipped onto his waistcoat, and dropped back into the pocket. He looked down at the box. Impulsively he pressed the wrapping paper inside, closed the lid, then placed it into a trouser pocket. Feeling very pleased with himself, he began to whistle a seasonal tune as he crossed the foyer.

* * * * *

Willow stood in front of the pink door, still trying to work out if the taxi driver had robbed her. It was so hard to work out the currency, even after being in the country a few weeks. When she'd told him to keep the change, he'd wasted no time in leaving. And now she was standing in front of the house of a person she'd met only once, without checking on her welcome. She wasn't even sure if the person she sought was even in, or had time to speak to her. She'd just decided to come, and hope for the best. Realizing she wouldn't find any answers just standing there, she raised her hand to knock on the wood.

The door opened before she made contact. "There you are, dear. I didn't think you'd ever make up your mind. Come in, it's awfully cold out, isn't it?" Aunt Agatha stepped back, allowing Willow to enter. "And yes, you did give him too large a tip. Not to worry, you'll soon learn. I have tea on; you probably left the hotel before eating a proper breakfast. Mind, by the look of you, Buffy, and Faith, one wonders if any of you ever eat a proper meal. Well, what are you waiting for? Come on, come on."

Willow followed the older woman into the sitting room they'd seen before, trying to process all she'd heard. One thing did penetrate the fog in her brain. "You have tea... A-are you expecting company? I could go and come back when you're not so busy?"

"No, no dear." Aunt Agatha pulled Willow's coat off her before she realized what she was doing and threw them on a rickety dining chair standing in a corner. "Now you take care of that, and don't you dare collapse again! The tea is for you dear, didn't you hear me say so? Funny, Rupert said you were quite intelligent, and not slow to grasp things. I do hope he wasn't wrong. Sit down, sit down." After instructing Willow, she proceeded to do the same.

Willow sank slowly onto the edge of the sofa. "You mean you were expecting me?"

"There now, that wasn't so bad was it?" She lifted an ornate china teapot and a cup that was obviously not of the same set. "I've tried a new blend, especially for you. It may be a tad bitter, so let me know if you need sugar." She passed the now-filled cup over to the younger woman, then began pouring a second cup for herself.

Willow shook her head, trying to clear the cobwebs. "But how? I didn't tell anybody."

Aunt Agatha began tutting. "Didn't Rupert say that you could communicate telepathically?" Willow slowly nodded her head. "Well, this is just a development on that ability. By using one's senses, one can find so many fascinating gifts waiting for development. Not another word until you tell me what you think of the tea." She picked up a slice of lemon as she spoke and squeezed it into her own cup, before taking a sip. "Hmmm, just what I was hoping for."

Willow slowly brought the cup to her lips, then pulled back as the steam scalded on them. Blowing gently across the rim, she waited until she felt the liquid was cool enough to drink. The aroma was fascinating, a mixture of so many herbs, and she could hardly wait to see if the taste matched it. She sipped slowly, then began coughing as the bitterness swelled across her tongue. Placing the cup on the tea tray she shook her head apologetically.

Aunt Agatha appeared disappointed, and Willow felt she had let her down somehow. "Never mind, your taste buds just need to become accustomed, that's all. In the meantime." Using silver tongs, she picked up three cubes of sugar and dropped them into Willow's cup. "I believe this will help it go down better. I so love the ritual of tea, don't you? If not, you soon will, especially High Tea. Rupert always says mine is the best ever. Do you think he's just trying to placate me?"

Willow giggled. "I'm sure he meant every word, Aunt... I-I mean."

"Of course you must call me Aunt, dear. You are, after all, family. All of Rupert's children are."

"Children?" She squeaked the question out.

"Yes. You, Xander, and Dawn. Your boyfriend too, and a few of the others. But not all. He doesn't let everybody in, you know."

"We're not... well, that is Buffy... she was the nearest thing to a child he had. And, well, they're..."

"Yes, they are, aren't they?" Whereas Aunt Agatha had looked almost plain, when she smiled such a joyous smile, she radiated a certain beauty. "Buffy was never Rupert's child. That foolish boy Quentin was just trying to take Rupert's power away. The relationship between a Watcher and his Slayer is so much more. It was almost inevitable they would become lovers."

Willow shook her head. She'd never considered that before. Things had started changing once they'd thought of Giles as a 'parent'. He'd stopped being one of them, and they'd left him out of so much. She felt pangs of guilt as she remembered how she'd treated him.

"Now, enough of that. He forgave you long ago."

"Aunt Agatha, do you know how."

"Annoying that is? Yes, dear, I'm afraid I do. Rupert's told me off several times. But it's very handy with the clients, you see. Makes them all 'true believers'. And I'm afraid you'll have to get used to it when you move in."

"What?" She reared back in shock.

"Oh dear. I'm moving too far ahead again, aren't I? I could have sworn you'd come to ask me to help you with your little problem."

She found herself nodding her head again. "I-I had, but I didn't think... I never expected you to."

"Willow, love, you really must learn to speak without stuttering. It would save us so much time."

Willow swallowed. "Yes, ma'am."

Aunt Agatha nodded. "Very good. Now, I think you need to spend Christmas with your family. When it's time, and you'll know when it is, you'll just move straight in here. You can, of course, visit whenever you like until then. And you might want to prepare your bedroom, decorate it any way you wish. It's rather old-fashioned and fussy at the moment."

"Aunt Agatha?"


"Did you see what my destiny was?"

"Yes dear I did."

"I'm kinda frightened. I'm not sure I want to live forever."

"Not forever, just too long." Aunt Agatha seemed to droop, lines forming around her face, her shoulders becoming round. "You need to understand. It gets very lonely. For all the wonderful young people you will meet, and the family you will have around you, as I did with Rupert, you will lose everybody who is close to you now. Of your own generation there will be none. Nobody to share memories with. Not just the personal ones, but the shared history of your age group. That is one of the negative consequences of our choice, dear, and you need to be fully aware of them all. But I'm sure you're also aware of some of the positive ones."

Willow nodded. "Oh yes. I-I'm not scared of my magic any more. I don't just want to learn how to control it so I don't go overboard again, but I want to learn how to use it properly. I'm kind of powerful, you know?"

"Oh, I know. I'm afraid I have a confession to make. When he went after you I advised Rupert to destroy you straight away. I couldn't see him defeating you, you see. I'm afraid I underestimated him, and you."

Willow felt a stab of pain at the confession, but then realized Aunt Agatha was right. Knowing what she now knew, if she witnessed somebody going the way she did, she might very well make the same decision. She smiled. "It's always foolish, underestimating Giles."

Aunt Agatha leaned over and patted her hand. "Always. Now, I believe your tea is read. Drink it up, and we'll begin your lessons. And if you're very good, I'll tell you some stories about Rupert's youth. He was such a rapscallion, you know."

* * * * *

She returned just after lunch, tired, but feeling more sure of herself and her destiny than she had in several years. She was shocked when she was accosted by Talbot Benedict. "Ah, Miss Willow, I hope your excursion was successful? The others are waiting. It appears another package was delivered. I had the boy take it up to your room. I do hope you'll be able to join us for the hotel party in two days time?" He bowed then turned, taking his watch out of his pocket as he went. Willow shook her head, then continued up the stairs. She wasn't sure she was ready for any more shocks.

"Willow! There's another package. And this one's for you." Dawn greeted the witch enthusiastically. It was obvious from the tension in the room that the others were also curious about the package.

Willow looked toward her best friend. "It's from your folks. And I think it's kinda too heavy to just be a Christmas ornament."

She shook her head. When Kennedy came forward, she kissed her softly, knowing their time was almost up. "Hey."

"Looks like you've been making a few decisions yourself."

"Yeah, I have."

"You gonna tell Oz?"

"Tonight. We're going there after dinner, right?" At her girlfriend's nod, she turned toward the parcel on the table. Xander was right. Too big to be just a Christmas ornament. Moving forward, she removed her coat and scarf, not noticing the wet trail they were leaving behind, or a smiling Giles cleaning up after her. She unwrapped the parcel, ignoring the eager presence of Buffy and Dawn.

On the top lay a small parcel, wrapped in tissue. She exchanged a smile with Xander, then opened it to show the others. Their contribution to the Christmas Tree had arrived. The bulk of the parcel remained covered, with no indication of what it might be. Catching her breath, she pulled back the paper.

"Oh." The disappointment in Dawn's voice was obvious. "A candlestick holder."

"But, hey." Buffy tried to instill more enthusiasm into her voice, "there are places for seven candles."

Willow smiled, her throat catching at her parent's thoughtfulness. "Giles, do we have any candles?"

"Of course we do."

Willow remembered back on the day. Of course there would be candles. Giles would know they were needed. She gently lifted the gift from her parents, turning it upright. Moving toward a buffet between two of the bedroom doors, she smiled when Giles joined her, a packet of candles in his hand. She was not surprised when Xander appeared by her other side. She let the men set the candles as she explained to the others. "It's not just any candlestick holder. It's a Menorah. There's a story in the old testament about the sacking of the temple in Jerusalem. They only had enough oil to keep the eternal flame burning for one night. It would have been a great tragedy for my people if it went out. And yet, the lamp continued to burn for seven nights, until more oil could be obtained. And so, at the start of Hanukkah, the Menorah is brought out, and a candle is lit every night for seven nights to thank God for the miracle." Giles handed her a box of matches. Not holding back the tears that welled in her eyes, she removed one from the box and struck it. "Today is the first night of Hanukkah. And this is the first candle to remember the tradition of my father's people." She touched the flame to the wick, not surprised that it flared up immediately.

Xander's arm came around her, drawing her to him. She leaned her head against his shoulder. No matter how much this family meant to her, how much she cared about Kennedy, and her future, she would always miss her parents, and the rich history they'd brought to her life. And only one person in the room would truly understand how she felt. He brushed his lips across her forehead. "Happy Hanukkah, Will."

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me
A Menorah For Remembering
Six DVD's A Playing
Five Scooby Rings
Four Futures Told
Three Old Loves
Two Gift Vouchers
And A Star On A Christmas Tree

Proceed To Day Eight