Disclaimer: I own nothing. All Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters belong to their original owners. All characters and settings created by phouka are the property of that author.


Taking a quick break from his labors in the middle of Christmas Day, Andrew Wells sat down at the kitchen table, and that young man tried to think of the specific word that would best describe his feelings at this exact moment.

Happy, yes, that was a part of his current mood. No, make that a BIG part of his mood. Sipping at his apple cider, Andrew grinned as he proudly regarded his territory, the massive kitchen of the dryad's house where he spent his days busily working in filling the stomachs of all the Cleveland Slayers and Watchers keeping guard over that city's Hellmouth.

At this moment, Andrew was alone in the food preparation area, since everyone else was back in their rooms gloating over their presents (another wide grin split the face of a true science-fiction geek savoring the memory of his own gift now leaning against his bedroom closet door, a framed, totally mint, original Episode Four - A New Hope - Star Wars movie poster print that also had the autographs of every single cast and crew member signed on the back, from Lucas himself down to the uncredited guy who spoke the line "TK-421. Why aren't you at your post? TK-421, do you copy?").

Taking another cheerful sip of his drink, Andrew snickered into his mug, as he amended his thoughts to note that most of the house had currently moved outside to start the most spirited snowball fight ever among themselves over the whole grounds of the estate, conducting strategy, maneuvers, ambushes, and enough dirty tricks for a small war. The Sunnydale survivor giggled, glad enough to be out of this mock combat, even though he would unfortunately miss the part when somebody standing next to a tree would surely forget themselves and launch a snowball directly at the dryad's house, only to be buried in the next moment by this tree's entire load of snow clinging to its branches that would have mysteriously shaken themselves, to dump every single chilly flake down the back of someone's neck.

No, it was better to be nice and warm and in the middle of such delicious smells, thought Andrew smugly to himself, as he sniffed to check on things. Nodding approvingly as his nose brought no cause for alarm, the cook of the house leaned back in his chair, to luxuriate in the fruits of his labors that would culminate in tonight's dinner. A cauldron of onion soup seethed on a massive stove, while in equally enormous ovens came the odors of baking gingerbread cookies, roasting potatoes, and the piece de resistance -- a brace of Christmas geese simmering in their own juices.

Once more, Andrew checked his front shirt pocket, where his own Christmas gift resided. Previously, the house had decided that to spare anyone from having to buy more gifts than they could afford, everyone would be matched up with some other single person, and they'd just exchange gifts. It wasn't that people were forbidden from giving different occupants of the house their own gifts; it was that they simply didn't have to if they didn't want to, and nobody would feel left out over not receiving gifts they weren't expecting anyway.

Pulling out a small jewelry box from his pocket, Andrew once more approvingly examined what he'd managed to find for a certain red-haired witch. He'd felt more than a little panicky back when his name had been paired up with Willow, considering that the most powerful witch in the world could already get virtually anything she wanted. So, what could he possibly think up for a really nice Christmas gift?

After vainly trying to come up with something for several days, a depressed Andrew had instead tried to distract himself by losing himself into planning the house's Christmas Day dinner. While working out the logistics and menu for a traditional holiday meal, an inspiration had burst into Andrew's mind, accompanied by a hurried check with the person most familiar with Willow. Xander had cheerfully confirmed that his yellow-crayon friend was indeed a fan of those stories, so a thrilled Andrew's next step was to find a jeweler's shop.

A very smug, former would-be super villain once more regarded the small box in his hand and the pendant that was revealed nestling inside this when he'd opened the lid. A small, thin, lozenge-shaped garnet, unfaceted and convex, had a silver band running around the edges of this rough gemstone, with the band attached at the top to a simple silver necklace. Chuckling, Andrew snapped shut the lid of the box and returned it to his pocket, his happiness only increasing as that man thought about the minor spell he'd cast on that garnet to change its color from its normal red shade to its new azure hue.

Tonight, when the food would be served, Andrew would personally place one of the platters holding a whole goose in front of Willow, and then he'd take the jewelry box out of his pocket, and offer it to that witch in her seat. He'd rehearsed often enough the next step, so that Andrew was confident his timing would be impeccable when announcing to a fascinated table occupied by the original Scooby Gang, "Madam, it is my honor to present to you, in tribute to that famous Sherlock Holmes story of the Christmas season, an actual blue carbuncle," right after Willow opened the box to stare at the gemstone.

Heaving a blissful sigh in anticipating the coming event, Andrew tried again to pin down exactly what he was feeling. Yes indeed, he was really happy in his life at this point, but that word didn't seem to cover all of what his disposition felt like now. There was….more, somehow, in his life. Maybe, because, for the first time ever, he was part of an actual family?

His eyes prickled in tears as Andrew felt he was close to the answer. They -- Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, Dawn, Jenny, the whole house -- they knew him, knew what he'd done, and they accepted him anyway. Him, the total dork, loser, murderer of his friend -- and it didn't make any difference. They'd forgiven him, and they trusted him to be around them. They WANTED him to be with them. Okay, maybe they sometimes found him getting on their nerves, they got mad at him, and they made sarcastic remarks about everything concerning him. So what? He also got fed up with them at times, and he could get away with saying derisive things to people that could bench-press cars, turn your nose into a tomato, and give him a purple nurple.

It all came down to the fact that they were his, and he was theirs. It was true that neither side would have ever set out to actually decide to choose each other, which only confirmed their family link. After all, as the saying went, you could choose your friends, but you can't choose your relatives.

Andrew just sat there for several moments in his warm glow of having a loving (okay, tolerated and often exasperating, but loving) family. He finally shook himself, and thought again if this showed his true mood for today. Andrew reluctantly acknowledged that this was as best as he could express it, and that his self-introspection period had gone on long enough. It was time to get back to getting dinner ready, so the man put down his glass on the kitchen table, and with his other hand, Andrew gripped and pressed down on the edge of this piece of furniture while getting out of his seat.

A soft 'click' came from the point of the kitchen table Andrew was holding, and something moved under his fingers. A very startled man from California now jerked away his hand, and stumbled back a step, until he regained his balance, standing there to stare at where a strip of wood was now protruding from the edge of the table.

"I broke it!" groaned Andrew, who then severely chided himself. That kitchen table was a massive slab of dark wood hewed from an entire tree, with equally thick wooden legs from that same tree, before it had been placed in the middle of the kitchen, to be used for decades in the preparation of meals for the house, without ever showing the slightest hint of wear. Andrew now decided that a bulldozer could have been driven over the table without putting any strain whatsoever upon it. So….what had really happened?

Andrew now stepped closer and bent down to peer at the piece of protruding wood. It looked to be man-made, not any kind of natural damage, but with clearly straight lines of a rectangular protrusion, about half a foot wide and about an inch thick. The man put the tip of his index finger against the side of this extension and cautiously pushed it in, with this sliding smoothly back into the table. Just before it would have fully gone all the way back in, Andrew stopped pushing, to then put his finger under this protrusion, digging his fingernail into the bottom of this to start pulling it out again. Once more, this moved just as smoothly, as the man's jaw dropped when he finally realized what it was.

"A hidden drawer!"

An excited Andrew now stepped right to the side of the table, to stand right over the revealed storage compartment hidden inside the table, as he finished pulling it all the way out. Astonishment on his features, Andrew then stared down at the inside of the drawer. Which was totally empty, except for a single square of white paper lying at the bottom of the drawer. Swept up in the moment, Andrew now put his hand in the drawer, to pick up the paper, and lift it to his face, as he intently examined this.

Unfortunately, this was accompanied by real disappointment, as this paper was totally blank, with nothing at all written on it. A glum Andrew stood there for a moment, until it occurred for him to do the most obvious thing, so he indeed did this. He turned the paper over.

For a full minute after that, a very dazed Sunnydale native stood in his kitchen, totally immobile. Then, he carefully replaced the paper back in the drawer, and the man then carefully pushed it in, until another soft 'click' and the feel of the drawer coming to a halt announced the secret of the table was once more concealed. Indeed, as Andrew absently eyed the spot where the drawer was, he couldn't see any sign in the grain of the aged wood where the edges of the drawer had hidden themselves.

Not that this really concerned Andrew. Instead, a slow, grateful smile now appeared on his face, as that man lovingly swept his hand over the surface of the kitchen table, as if he were caressing the wood itself. Looking into the distance, the man who'd survived a Hellmouth now whispered to a being he knew perfectly well would heed him, "Thank you so much."

With a perfect sense of calm satisfaction, Andrew Wells went back preparing to feed his family, as he made a quick note to find out the exact source of that quote on the piece of paper he'd just read, written in an elaborate copperplate hand:

"My crown is in my heart, not on my head;

Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones,

Nor to be seen: my crown is called content:

A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy."