The Twelve Days of Christmas
The Final Chapter

Finally. Christmas morning.

I knew it was Christmas morning because Nudge reminded me, "It's Christmas, Max!" no less than 87 times before I even got out of my bed.

Most of the flock was already in the family room spread out on the couches. I plopped down next to Nudge and Ella, both buzzing with holiday spirit.

Then Fang came strolling in with that goofy Santa hat on again, much to Angel's delight.

Iggy was the last to join us in the living room. I was surprised to see a somber expression on his face instead of his usual sparkle of mischief.

"Everything okay, Ig?" Ella asked, noticing the same thing.

His eyes moved toward the sound of her voice, but settled just left of where she was sitting. "I had the strangest dream."

"Did you blow someone up?" Gazzy asked. Iggy frowned and shook his head. The Gasman was visibly disappointed.

Angel hopped off the couch and bounced over to Iggy. She grabbed his hand and brought him back over to sit with her, saying, "Tell us about it and then we can open our gifts!" The thrill in her voice made me smile. I guess that was part the whole "Christmas magic" thing.

"Okay." He settled into the couch and put his hands in his lap, looking unsure of where to start. "First of all, I could see everything. Really see it. I wasn't blind."

"Whoa. Cool!" Gazzy said. "What was it like?"

Iggy shrugged. "Weird, but that's not the strange part."

"Was I in your dream? You could see me, right? What was I wearing? Was it city chic? Please tell me I wa-"

"Nudge. Let him tell the story," I said. And I immediately felt like a big, annoying cankerworm. All of us were always doing that, interrupting her to shut her up. I thought about making it a New Years resolution to stop doing that. Maybe just let her spill out all the words until she ran out of breath.

"We were at a party," Iggy started. "It was fo shizzle the best party I've ever been to." I was tempted to point out that he didn't have many parties under his belt to compare it to. "But you all wanted to go home. I told you I was having too much fun and that I'd meet you at home later. Then you all left."

A full minute passed before anyone said anything. Fang spoke up first, a tiny smirk forming at the corner of his mouth. "Great story, Ig."

"I wasn't finished." He shot an annoyed glance in Fang's direction. "I went in the bathroom after you left. After I closed the door, I saw some weird chick sitting on the toilet. She wasn't doing her business; she was just sitting there. But she wasn't there when I walked in." He smiled a little to himself. "She told me she was sent to me."

"Where are you going with this, Iggy?" I asked.

"She was a ghost. Or at least that's what she told me. I guess I believed her."

I felt relieved. There could be worse types of girls sent to you in a bathroom than dead ones.

"Then she snapped her fingers and we were in the woods somewhere. Literally with the snap of her fingers. Now here's where it gets weirder. You were all there. Except you were all younger. A younger me was there, too. Max was getting pissed off at me for something I said. She told Fang he was in charge and took off into the trees." I looked over at Fang. I had done that many times in the past.

"I tried to ask her what this was about, but she was gone. There was some guy standing where she had been and before I could do anything, he snapped his fingers and we were inside Dr. M's house. Just like that. And we were all there again, but this time, we were the same ages as we are now. Max wanted me to start cooking dinner, a turkey, but I was busy with Gazzy. We were working on a new project." He paused to grin in the Gasman's direction, then continued.

"Max went back to the kitchen, where Angel, Fang, and her mom were. She told them, 'If he's not going to make himself useful, he should go find another flock.' Then she shoved the turkey into the oven herself. She didn't hear me when I told her she forgot to take the gizzard out." He chuckled. "No one could hear me. They couldn't see me, either, I guess. It was so weird..."

I noticed Gazzy starting to get antsy in his seat, probably itching to start opening gifts.

"The guy that was with me said she - you," Iggy turned his head toward me, "were serious, that I should think about being more helpful. And then he disintegrated right into thin air. Right after that, Dr. M's house started falling apart, too, like it was raining away or something. I don't know how to explain it. Maybe that's what tripping on acid feels like."

I scowled at him, but he didn't feel it.

"Everything turned really dark and I was up on a rooftop. There was another me again, but this time I looked dirty and old. The other me was standing at the edge of the roof, staring out at nothing. There was no one else around... But then I felt a hand on my shoulder. I was creeped out before I even turned to look. I could feel that the person's fingers were really long and cold. And I was right to be creeped out. She was totally freaky. It was a bony, old woman with long, black hair down to her knees, the palest white skin you can imagine, and her eyes... her eyes weren't there. She had black holes where her eyes should have been!" Iggy ran a hand through his hair.

"She took her hand off my shoulder and pointed at the other me. I didn't know why. I was just standing there alone, not doing anything exciting... Until I - the other me - started leaning forward over the edge. I watched myself lean so far that my feet left the roof and I disappeared over the side... And then poof, I woke up. Just like that." He shrugged again.

Ella was staring wide-eyed at him.

"I think the woman was trying to let me know I could end up by myself if I don't do something now," Iggy continued. He looked mildly uncomfortable. "So, anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is..." he trailed off, turning his head slowly around the room.

I jumped in to help him finish. "That you love us and you'll be more helpful when I ask for something and-"

"No. No, I think... We need to go buy a turkey."

His face was dead serious.

The whole flock was mute for a few seconds, but Fang was again the one to break the silence when he burst into laughter. It may have taken a few of us by surprise, but we all soon joined with our own peals of laughter until the room was a mess of hilarity.

Total began to say, "I'm not sure you understand what really happened," but no one was listening.

"A turkey!" Nudged wheezed, slapping her knee with a demented silent cackle.

"Oh, Iggy, that was golden!" Ella said. Like the rest of us, she was wiping the tears from her eyes.

After another round of this, after we could all breathe again, I suggested we open the gifts.

Everyone's face lit up. Angel hopped off the couch again. "Can I help hand them out?"

"Of course, Angel." I smiled at her as she hurried over to the tree and the pile of gifts. My heart was swelling in my chest. This was it. It was really happening. A real Christmas for my flock had never seemed possible in the past, yet now here we were, all together and happy and SAFE. We had a fireplace and stockings and snow and hot cocoa and a tree with presents underneath, covered in ribbons and bows. We had Christmas.

"Max." Angel, with a toothy grin, was standing in front of me, holding out a red box. "Merry Christmas."

"Thank you, sweetie."

She dove right back to the pile and continued to distribute the gifts around the room. We were going to open them one at a time, but everyone was so eager that we all tore into the paper at once. Nudge found a glittery scarf set in one of her boxes and squealed a little. Angel pulled out a new dress for Celeste. Iggy unwrapped a box and Angel let him know it was bacon-flavored envelopes, which thrilled him. Fang... Fang was kinda staring at me. He had a box on his lap, but the wrappings were untouched. He gave me a little lopsided smile that reminded me of the night before.

I took my presents and walked over to where he was sitting. I took a seat on the floor nearby. "Why aren't you opening anything?" I asked quietly.

"Just wanted to see if everyone else liked their gifts first. Looks like you were doing the same." He gestured toward my untouched packages.

"Is anyone going to help me here?" Total bellowed. He'd been so quiet all morning, I'd almost forgotten about him.

"You've got teeth. Use 'em," Iggy said.

Total stared at him, aghast. "I am not taking that paper apart with my mouth. What if the ink seeps into my bloodstream and causes renal failure? What if I choke on the paper? You can't get the paramedics out here! I would asphyxiate! Is that what you want?"

Angel was already on her way over to him, ever willing to help the little furball. He rubbed his head against her leg in thanks and sent one more scowl at Iggy, who was rolling his eyes.

I turned back to Fang, who was sliding down off the couch and settling on the floor next to me. "Open," I said.

He shook his head. "You first." He picked up a small box with a little green stick-on bow and put it in my hand. "Here, this one."

I looked at the package, then back at Fang. "Is this from Santa?" I asked and swatted at the white ball on his Santa hat. Any other day, I might have felt the awkwardness and bolted, but all I could do was grin like an idiot while the little voice in my head sounded like a 4-year-old going, "Christmasssss!"

He didn't answer, which I took as a yes. I looked down at the gift again and started peeling up the corners of the wrapping. I pulled it all off and took the top off the box. Whatever was inside was covered in tissue paper. I carefully spread open a few layers of it and finally got to the gift.

A small stuffed animal. A raven. It was the one I'd seen in the mall.

It was silly, but - and I won't say I'm not morbidly embarrassed to admit this - it had reminded me of Fang. My best friend, always there for me. Always helping me with our little family. He could be a major pain in the butt sometimes and maddeningly stubborn, but who's perfect? Certainly not me...

I started to laugh at myself, getting all sappy and ridiculous. I didn't want him to think I was laughing at his gift to me, so I gave him an almost-hug and said, "Thanks, Fang," still chuckling to myself.

He leaned toward me and kissed my forehead. "Merry Christmas, Max."

"What's going on?" Iggy asked.

I pulled away and sat straight up, frozen. "Nothing. Just saying thank y-"

"Shhh. I meant outside. I heard something." The volume in the room cut to silence in an instant. We listened and, sure enough, there were footsteps outside.

Max the Leader found her way back to my brain immediately and I was in a crouched warrior position faster than you could say the word 'potato'. They'd found us. I knew it had been too good to be true.

"Everyone get ready. Plan X," I whispered.

I heard the footsteps, a pair a heavy boots perhaps, slowly getting closer until they were right outside the door. Then it was quiet. But not for long. There were keys rattling, being jammed at the lock a few times, until one slipped in... turned smoothly... splonk. The lock was open.

But I was ready.

Or so I thought I was.

The doorknob turned and the door swung open with ease.

Whatever I expected, it was not what stood in the doorway.

I stood up, feeling shaky.

"Mom!" I ran to her. She had a stack of presents in her arms. I took them from her and shoved them at Nudge, who had appeared behind me. I gave her the best hug I could manage.

She laughed and put her arms around me. "I'm happy to see you, too, Max."

"How did you get back? I thought you couldn't make it?"

"Plans changed. I'm sorry I couldn't get here earl-"

"It's fine. It's more than fine." I stood back at arm's length. My face was beginning to hurt from smiling so much. "Thank you for being here, Mom." She returned that warm smile of hers that touched her eyes.

"Stop hogging my mother," Ella said, playfully pushing me out of the way.

I looked around at the flock, at my mother and my sister...

I had everything a teenage mutant birdgirl could ever ask for. And I was loving every minute of it.

Merry Christmas, indeed.