"We'll go check with Giles," Buffy said, "you guys… just stay here, it's probably still chaos out there."

"We'll watch some movies and eat some candy, we'll be fine," Xander said, as he held Dawn on his lap, gently stroking her back.

"That's a good idea, I think I'll wait until things calm down a little before leaving," Cordelia said, as Angel and Buffy left.

"I'm even shorter than Buffy now," Dawn complained, clinging to Xander and hoping her sister was right and that Giles would have a cure.

"Yeah, but comparing height to breast size, you make her look flat chested," Cordelia pointed out.

Dawn perked up at that, while Xander just stared at Cordelia, surprised. He wasn't surprised she'd say something like that, but saying it to cheer up Dawn was certainly surprising.

"Why don't you get some popcorn and candy ready and cue up a movie while we visit the little girls' room to clean up," Cordelia said.

"I probably need to wash my face," Dawn admitted.

"Okay," Xander said, setting Dawn down. "Animated or non?"

"Animated," Dawn said. "Something Scooby related."

Xander grinned. "That's my girl," he said proudly, before going to the kitchen to pop some popcorn.

Dawn blushed and quickly turned to rush upstairs, Cordelia having to hurry to keep up as Dawn bounced up the stairs like a Kangaroo.

"So… what is your opinion of Xander?" Cordelia asked after she'd closed the bathroom door.

"He's wonderful!" Dawn blurted out. "Ahem, I mean… no, he is wonderful," she said firmly. "Are you… interested in him?" she asked timidly, worried the older girl had asked her here to announce her own interest in Xander.

"For a long time, but I'm not good at sharing and you are going to be his primary focus for a while, so that's off the table," Cordelia said bluntly.

"Really?" Dawn asked, hope coloring her voice.

"Really," Cordelia assured her. "I've known him since kindergarten and he's not exactly hard to read. Until Xander is sure you're okay, you are going to be the person he puts first… even before Willow and she's not going to like that. I just wanted to give you a head's up because I prefer you to Willow."

"You don't even know me," Dawn pointed out as she thought about her own interactions with Willow, which were few and far between and usually just a minute here and there as she retrieved Xander for something he was doing with her and Buffy.

"I know you saved my life," Cordelia said, "something that Willow hasn't ever done and probably would hesitate to do. That may just be bad past experiences with her talking to be honest, but since I don't like her, I'm not trying to be fair here. I just want to warn you that Willow is going to be jealous and that you have to pretend not to see it, since Xander won't and you have to take the high road if you want to win. Willow is going to get demanding and needy, when you obviously need him more, so keep your cool and when she pulls that shit, you'll look even better in Xander's eyes by being nice and understanding, okay?"

"I can do that," Dawn said. "Not sure Willow's that bad, but if she acts that way I'll be prepared."

"You start High School next year, right?" Cordelia asked.

"Not unless I skip grades," Dawn admitted with a sigh.

"I thought you were older," the teen said as she fixed her hair. "No matter, Xander is more than immature enough for the both of you and boys mature slower anyway."

The younger girl giggled.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

Buffy reluctantly returned home with her shoulders slumped and a dispirited air about her. She had rushed to the school library only to find Giles absent, but running into Willow they'd managed to track him down as he was leaving Ethan's costume shop. Once the problem was explained he'd promised to look into it, but he hadn't been hopeful. Apparently, Chaos magic was… chaotic and nearly impossible to reverse.

She looked at the tree on the side of the house and considered sneaking in, if only to avoid having to having to tell her little sister that she was going to be stuck as a doll for God knows how long, but took a deep breath and forced herself to use the front door.

She heard canned laughter as she entered and saw that Cordelia had somehow ended up staying over as the three teens were sprawled out on the couch together fast asleep while a comedy played on the TV. Buffy gave a relieved sigh and prayed things would return to normal by morning but wasn't going to get her hopes up as Giles had warned her it was a slim chance.

Deciding not to wake them with bad news, even if it made her feel a bit like a coward, Buffy decided to go to bed.

She was shaken awake seemingly seconds after closing her eyes.

"Mom?" she asked blurrily as she blinked sleep from her eyes.

"Honey, why is your sister a doll?" Joyce asked quietly.

"What?" Buffy asked still only half awake.

"Why is your sister a doll?" Joyce repeated.

"Oh," Buffy said as she sat up. "I'd hoped that would have worn off." She sighed. "Wait! You just accept the fact that Dawn's a doll but me being a Vampire Slayer is insane?"

"Dear, I can see your sister is a doll, there isn't any denying it."

"Well, I can lift up the back of the car without a problem," Buffy replied, "not to mention being able to catch arrows out of the air… or at least knives."

"You've never shown me any of that," Joyce pointed out.

"Oh," Buffy said quietly. "I guess I can demonstrate later."

"Now, why is Dawn a doll?" she asked, the stress and worry clear in her voice.

"A chaos mage enchanted everyone's costumes last night, so everyone turned into what they dressed as. It being chaos and all… it seems to have worn off on everyone but Dawn. It was just bad luck. I'd hoped it would wear off when the sun rose… but I'm guessing that didn't happen," she said sadly, as she slipped out of bed.

"No, no it didn't," Joyce said. "I need a cigarette," she said with a sigh.

"So, you believe me about being The Vampire Slayer now?" Buffy asked.

"I'd really like not to," Joyce admitted, "but I'm willing to entertain the possibility while waiting for proof."

"Better than last time," Buffy said, trying to look on the bright side.

"Last time we were in the middle of a divorce while we were hiding it from our children and scrambling for a way to keep our eldest daughter, who was telling us she was the chosen one and everything we knew about reality was wrong, from becoming a felon and being sentenced to anywhere from five to fifteen years in jail," Joyce said bluntly. "Dawn was also having some problems in school and had started shoplifting, but that was a phase I recall you going through as well, so it was to be expected."

"Let's go get you some coffee and a cigarette," Buffy told her mom. "Once you have the appropriate levels of caffeine and nicotine, then we can have this discussion."

"Bless you," Joyce said with a weak smile that gained a little strength as her daughter hugged her.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

Xander slowly woke up, feeling a warmth on his right-hand side and weight on his chest. It took him a moment to realize where he was and he was surprised to find Joyce was quietly talking to Buffy a few feet away; he'd been sure a reveal would have involved some yelling. "Good morning," he said softly, not wanting to wake the girls.

"Too early," Cordelia muttered, as even that much noise had roused her. She sniffed the air. "I smell coffee."

"There's a pot in the kitchen, you're welcome to a cup," Joyce offered.

"Bless you," Cordelia said as she got up, pretending she hadn't been snuggling on the couch with Xander, before vanishing into the kitchen.

"I'm surprised Dawn isn't up yet," Buffy said, "she's usually up… with the dawn."

"She needs to be wound-up," Xander said as the doll shifted as he sat up, her hands grasping his shirt tightly to keep from falling off.

"Like one of those toy soldiers from the ballet?" Buffy asked with a frown.

"Yeah, there's a key in her case," Xander answered.

"I can do it," Buffy offered, figuring he'd want to get a cup of coffee himself as she knew Xander wasn't a morning person.

"Actually, you can't," Xander said. "I'm her contractor, which means I have to wind her up myself, it doesn't work otherwise."

"Are you going to have to wind her up every morning?" Joyce asked, before taking a deep drag off her cigarette, blowing a cloud of blue smoke towards the ceiling a moment later.

"Not every morning, just every morning after emotional events or she's done a lot," Xander explained.

"Strong emotions cause her to unwind faster," Joyce said curiously.

"I'm actually feeding her some of my life energy, the more she does, the more she feels, the more she lives… the more she needs," he replied with a shrug, causing Dawn to snuggle her head into the crook of his neck.

"Is that going to shorten your life span?" Buffy asked concerned.

"Nah, it'll just tire me out for a couple of minutes," he replied unconcerned as he got to his feet. "Be right back."

"Contractor?" Joyce asked Buffy.

"No idea," she replied as Cordelia rejoined them, cuddling her mug of coffee like it was a small child. "Do you know what Xander being Dawn's contractor means?" she asked.

"Not really," Cordelia admitted. "We were trying to avoid talking about it last night while we were doing our best to cheer up Dawn. I think it's something more than dating less than marriage or maybe the other way around?"

"How can it be more than marriage but less than dating?" Buffy asked, confused.

"Whatever connection they have is strong enough that she's now his first priority, before anyone else," Cordelia said, hiding her expression in her coffee before even the slayer could catch a glimpse.

"Pretty sure that's Willow," Buffy disagreed, before a loud moan came from upstairs.

Buffy and Joyce froze in shock.

"But she doesn't have those parts," Cordelia complained.

"What?" Buffy asked, pausing to find out what she'd meant by that, before going upstairs and killing her friend.

"She has a doll's body," Cordelia explained, "it came up when we were eating. She doesn't have to go to the bathroom… ever. Not sure where the food vanishes to, but it just disappears or something, she'd not anatomically correct."

"Oh," Buffy said, sitting back down and not sure when she'd gotten to her feet. "I have even more questions now."

Dawn bounced down the stairs with a bright smile, full of energy and good cheer, like a kangaroo on crack, followed by a very red faced Xander, who looked like he was about to fall asleep on his feet.

"That was better than a triple thick chocolate milkshake!" Dawn exclaimed. "Mom!"

Joyce found herself with her arms filled with daughter before she could blink.

"Mom… brace yourself… I'm a doll," Dawn said firmly.

"So, I gathered," Joyce said, hugging her daughter to her, glad she seemed to be alright.

"Oh," Dawn said, realizing her mother had probably seen them asleep on the couch when she'd come in. "How'd you know I was me?"

"You move in your sleep and tend to mumble," Joyce said as Xander fell onto the couch like a puppet with its strings cut.

"What was up with the moaning?" Cordelia asked.

"Cordelia!" Buffy hissed.

"What? If you want answers you have to ask," she replied.

"Xander wound me up," Dawn said with a bright smile. "It was like going from nearly asleep to… to Disneyland! I wanted him to give the key another turn, but he said three was enough!" she complained, but couldn't stop smiling.

"You don't need to be wound that tight," Xander said, not even opening his eyes and surprising them that he was still awake, "or you'd be bouncing off the walls even more than you are now."

"Are you okay?" Buffy asked.

"I need either a nap or some sugar," Xander replied. "The first time is always the most tiring."

"Did you have to put it like that?!" Dawn moaned, hiding her face in her hands to cover her blush.

"I'm too tired to intentionally use innuendo," Xander told her. "So, anything that sounds dirty is completely unintentional."

"I'll get you some coffee," Buffy said, "then you can explain what a Contractor is."

"Splash of milk or creamer, lots of sugar, preferably in a very large cup," Xander told her.

"Maybe we should start with what a Rozen Maiden is," Dawn suggested.

"Living doll," Cordelia said. "Is there more to it?"

"Quite a bit," Xander and Dawn chorused.

"Coffee," Buffy announced as she returned with a large cup.

Xander's eyes opened and he sat up. "Thanks," he said gratefully and accepted the cup, guzzling half of it.

"I'm surprised you didn't burn your mouth on that," Buffy said.

Xander let out a satisfied sigh. "I can't be burned," he told her. "Okay, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there was a man, a skilled craftsman. He had a daughter who he loved with all his heart. The daughter got sick and passed on, leaving the man heartbroken."

Dawn slipped off her mother's lap and crossed over to the couch, climbing onto Xander's and giving him a hug.

"The man poured his heart into his work, often making statues or dolls, almost always something humanoid and female," Xander continued, wrapping an arm around Dawn. "Often his creations sprang to life and often he passed away from old age or angry mobs."

"I don't remember that," Dawn said with a frown.

"Rozen was just his latest incarnation," Xander said. "Pretty sure there were lives in between where his daughter didn't die and he didn't pour his heart and soul into his work, but those incarnations don't really stick out. Rozen's daughter Alice got sick and died, leading to him pouring everything into making Dolls. He created seven dolls called The Rozen Maidens. They were told that they were to fight and collect each other's Rosa Mystica until one had all seven and could then become The Alice, a real girl."

"Well, that sucks," Cordelia said.

"It was a trick," Xander said. "To become human, they had to rebel against their creator and discover the difference between good and evil for themselves."

"Garden of Eden?" Joyce asked.

"It's in the neighborhood," Xander agreed. "He didn't create battle maidens, he created beautiful, gentle, loving creations. Naturally he knew they would rebel and refuse to harm their sisters."

"Eventually," Dawn said with a huff.

"If he had made it easy to rebel, they would have no chance to become more than they are," Xander told her. "You can't become strong physically without lifting a lot of weight, that applies spiritually as well."

"I don't have a Mystic Rose for you to get from me," Buffy told her sister, "and that sounds more Beauty and the Beast anyway. So, do we need to have Dawn rebel against something? What could she rebel against anyway?"

Dawn smirked. "What do ya got?"

Xander snickered as Dawn broke out in giggles. "Dawn was already a human girl, so she doesn't need to rebel against anything."

"And where do contractors come into it?" Joyce asked.

"To give each Maiden a guide into what being a human was like they would form contracts with a human child, so they could learn and grow along side of them," Xander explained.

"Playmate, servant, master… it really depended on the two who formed the contract really," Dawn added. "There are even cases where it was an older couple who basically adopted them as if they were their children."

"And the contractor provides life force and winds them up?" Joyce asked, just to be sure.

"And plays with them, feeds them, cares for them, loves them," Dawn listed off.

"Cleans and repairs, if they have the skills," Xander added.

"Repairs?" Joyce asked.

"Clothes get worn and sometimes they get physically damaged and need repairs done," Xander replied.

"Life force can repair most damage, but it's rarely used that way unless there is an emergency," Dawn said.

"The Maidens also guard those they cherish," Xander added, "awake and asleep."

"We can use mirrors to travel into the dreamlands and help damaged souls," Dawn said proudly.

"Can you change contractors?" Buffy asked, thinking it would be a lot easier if she or mom could be Dawn's contractor rather than relying on Xander to wind her up every morning.

"No," Dawn said with a glare, a gardening trowel appearing in her hand.

Xander hugged Dawn and tried to calm her down. "She doesn't know or understand. She wasn't trying to be insulting."

"Sorry," Buffy said, quickly backing down, seeing how upset Dawn was, even if she didn't know why, "I won't ask again."

"What's with the shovel?" Cordelia asked, trying to change the subject.

"It's my gardening trowel," Dawn said proudly, "not sure what it does yet, except let me knock people out."

"Is it supposed to do something?" Cordelia asked.

"Suiseiseki has a watering can that allowed her to control plants and nourish souls, which is who I dressed as," Dawn explained. "Her twin sister Souseiseki has a pair of gardening shears that she uses to cut through anything including souls and memories, when she does when they are weighed down by sadness or tragedy and can't move past it. Not sure what the trowel does yet, but it'll probably be much the same, some way to mend minds and souls."

"Of course, makes perfect sense," Cordelia agreed.

"I can't tell if she's being sarcastic or not," Buffy said after a few seconds of quiet.

"She can easily mean it and be sarcastic at the same time," Xander said, "she's gifted that way."

"Okay, now that was sarcastic," Buffy said.

"Pretty sure he was being serious and sarcastic at the same time," Dawn teased, catching a quickly hidden smirk on Cordelia's face.

"You know me so well," Xander said, giving her a squeeze.

"So, to sum things up," Joyce said, still trying to wrap her mind around things, "you are now a living doll who is learning to become human and heal souls?"

"Mind and soul, they're kinda wrapped around each other," Dawn said with a nod.

"And vampires exist," Joyce said, lighting up another cigarette.

"A lot of things exist," Buffy said, "not sure what doesn't exist to be honest."

"Maybe we should call Giles in for this," Xander suggested.

"The school librarian?" Joyce asked, just to be sure.

"Also, the most knowledgeable person we know on the supernatural," Buffy added.

"Plus, the whole thing sounds a lot more reasonable coming from a British voice," Xander said.

"I would love for things to sound reasonable," Joyce said, "please give him a call."

Typing by: Still me. I think I'm getting faster at this!

Betas: Abyssal Angel & Mist of Shadows