Disclaimer I do not own these characters. I do not own any of the names, places, or books referenced in the story. I do not own anything—it all belongs to Mutant Enemy. (Except the bit that belongs to Douglas Adams.) I merely borrowed them because, as Willow would say, "We don't have cable, so we have to make our own fun." No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note This idea came from a challenge I read some time ago which called for several Scoobies to be turned into toddlers. The concept was too cute to ignore, so I've been playing around with it. The challenge is # 14 at ODD, for anyone who is curious.
Thanks Thanks to Michamon, who found the original challenge for me, back when all I knew was that this was "some challenge I saw somewhere". Many, many thanks to Adele, my fabulous beta, without whom this story would have been a mess. Thanks also to mrsdrake—for everything.
Of the Trio—and the Quartet
"Guys!" Warren's voice abruptly cut into Andrew and Jonathan's bickering, stopping them in their tracks. There was no small bit of awe in their erstwhile leader's voice when he said quietly, "The Starship Titanic is complete."
"The Starship Titanic?" Andrew asked blankly.
Jonathan shot him a withering look. "Yeah. Spontaneous Massive Existence Failure…dude, don't you ever read?"
Andrew bristled. "I get the joke," he retorted defensively. "I just wish somebody would have told me we changed the name—I thought we were calling it the Terminator." He pointed an accusing finger at Jonathan. "You never tell me anything!"
Warren rolled his eyes, and interrupted the seemingly endless flow of irritating nonsense. How had he ever gotten hooked up with these losers to begin with?
"It doesn't matter what we call it," he pointed out, clearly annoyed. "All that matters is that it works. We point it at the Slayer, activate the Deceleration Beam, and poof! She starts regressing, and within sixty seconds, she pops out of existence and we all go home happy."
Andrew looked awed, in spite of himself. "We actually did it? We found a way to…to de-age someone?"
Disgustedly, Warren eyed his two partners in crime. "Well, I did it, if you want to get technical."
"We helped, and you know it!" Jonathan's petulance was briefly overwhelmed by his own awe. "Hey! Not only does this thing solve our Slayer problem, but do you guys realize we've actually invented the fountain of youth?"
"The gun of youth," Andrew retorted loftily.
"The gun of youth?" Jonathan repeated. "How dumb does that sound?"
Warren sighed, cutting the pair of them off before they could get back to bickering. "Let's just go use it, okay?"
Buffy paced the living room nervously. Behind her, the entire group had gathered. It was almost time. The cab should be arriving any minute.
Giles was almost home.
Even though he hadn't told her why he was coming, in so many words, she knew. Giles, here on Council business—it could only mean one thing. He was going to ask her to let the Council give her a new Watcher. The thought made her feel ill. Giles was her Watcher—her only Watcher—and she had told the Council so, every single time they had called. Now, apparently, they were pulling out the big guns. Sending back the one man who might—just might—be able to convince her to let them do it.
What really made her feel sick was that Giles was clearly going along with this. When he'd left, she'd been so empty inside that she could barely stand it. She'd screwed up—even more than she'd been screwing up before he left, which was saying something. She couldn't help it…it felt like she'd lost the one constant thing in her life.
But in her heart, she had always believed he'd be back. He belonged to her, just like she belonged to him. She was his Slayer. He hadn't left her when the Council had tried to force Wesley down her throat, and she'd thought he was with her on this. They were a team.
They were supposed to be a team.
She should have hated him for it, but she couldn't. She was too happy he was coming home. Even if just for a little while. Now, if only she could figure out how to keep him here…she could stall, she supposed. Pretend to be considering the Council's proposition. That might work for awhile—
Car lights flashed in the distance, and Buffy stiffened. It was time.
"He's here," she told the others, and headed for the front door. She could hear the group crowding around the window, nearly as excited as she was to see the missing member of their group again. It just didn't feel like home here without him.
"I'm going to get tea!" Dawn announced, disappearing into the kitchen with an eagerness that made Buffy smile. Not that long ago, the younger Summers sister hadn't even liked the Watcher that much.
She opened the door and stepped out onto the porch, leaving the others to their window. Closing the door behind her, she waited silently, nervously, in the shadows of the front porch. The cab pulled up against the curb. Buffy's heart pounded.
In her excitement, she failed to notice the three shadows across the street, all trying—and failing—to hide behind one slender tree.
"That's her, in the window," Andrew pointed, his whisper sounding loud in the darkness. "Hurry, before the cab driver sees us!"
Warren aimed the bulky gun steadily at the blonde form in the middle of the window.
"Will we hit the others?" Jonathan asked anxiously.
"Who cares?" Warren demanded in a harsh whisper. "The important thing is that we hit the Slayer. We're sure that's her?"
Andrew nodded violently. "The blonde one."
"There are two 'blonde ones'," Jonathan pointed out heatedly. "Which one?"
This gave Andrew a moment's pause. "The one in the middle," he said finally. "I'm sure of it."
A faint movement to the right of the window caught Jonathan's attention. A blonde head, he thought—a cold feeling settled into his stomach.
"Guys, wait—" he began, but a low hum filled the air and beam of blue-white light shot from the end of the gun, aimed straight at the window across the way.
The blonde head whipped around, staring wide-eyed at the beam of light, and Jonathan's worst fears were realized.
"It's the Slayer!" he whispered urgently. "You're shooting the wrong…" Warren wasn't listening. Angrily, Jonathan shoved him, causing the beam of light to jerk violently around for a moment, then stop. The Slayer was already on her way across the street.
"It wasn't long enough!" Warren whirled on Jonathan, rage pouring off him in waves. "We didn't finish!"
Normally, the sight of Warren so angry would terrify Jonathan, but right now there was something far more terrifying on the way. "You shot the wrong girl," Jonathan muttered, shoving the other two away from the tree. "Now, run!"
It took only a moment for his words to sink in, and with horrified glances at the oncoming Slayer, they obeyed, fleeing into the darkness of the night.
Buffy reached the spot where the three shadows had been, but they were gone. In the distance, she could hear retreating footsteps, and she knew if she gave chase, she could catch them. She glanced at the window. What had they done? She didn't see the others anymore.
Her heart froze. Had that light-thing hurt the gang?
Abandoning the chase, she darted for the house. Giles, already out of the cab and running, himself, met her on the porch.
"What happened?" he demanded, and Buffy could only shake her head as she flew past him and opened the door.
"I-I don't know."
The sound of childish screams in the living room stopped them both in their tracks, but only for a moment. Skidding through the door and around the corner, Buffy gasped.
Four tiny toddlers gazed back up at her in abject terror, tears streaming down their cheeks.
Dawn stood in the corner, thankfully full-sized, her eyes as wide as saucers. "Buffy," she whispered. "What happened?"
"Dear Lord," breathed Giles from behind Buffy's shoulder. "Are—are those…?"
"It's them," Buffy said flatly, staring at the children's clothes. Each kid stood in a pool of adult clothing, pants puddled on the floor around their feet, giant shirts hanging from their minute frames. As she watched, tiny Xander tried to take a step forward, tripped over the pants he was standing in, and hit the floor with a thump. His lips quivered, big brown eyes brimming with tears, for one suspended moment before the wail broke out.
"Dawn, did you—did you see anything?" Giles couldn't take his eyes off the miniature Scoobies. His voice sounded weak.
"I was in the kitchen!" Dawn cried. "I saw what looked like lightning coming from the living room. Then…then they started crying, and I—"
"It's okay." Buffy squared her shoulders, which suddenly felt heavy. She took a step closer to the nearest toddler, little redheaded Willow, weeping pitifully into her hands. "Willow, sweetie," she said, very softly, "it's all right. We'll fix this."
Taking her cue from Buffy, Dawn nodded, kneeling on the floor next to Xander. She helped him gently to his feet. "Xander?" she asked softly.
Traumatized, Xander chose that moment to have a little accident on the rug.
"Giles," she said, quietly, so as not to upset the children any further. "I need you to go to the store, okay? The keys to the Jeep are hanging by the door—we need diapers."
"D-diapers?" Giles actually took a step backward. "W-wouldn't it be better if…if you took care of…of…that?"
Buffy grinned in spite of herself. "I could, I guess. That means you'll have to give Xander here a bath…"
Giles gulped and grabbed the keys in a flash. "What…I mean, what kind? Are there…are there sizes?"
"You probably want the pull-up kind. They look about three…maybe. Anyway, I'd guess they're at least partially potty-trained. Wouldn't you say so, Dawn?"
Dawn nodded hesitantly. "Janice has a niece who's about three. It looks right. She's…she's potty-training now."
"Ask the saleslady to help you with sizes if they don't go by age," Buffy advised him.
With a dazed nod, Giles fled.
Buffy gazed at her sister over the heads of their tiny friends. "You want to watch these three? Or give Xander the bath?"
Anya, who had, until this point, been content to stand still and wail at the top of her lungs, suddenly quieted. "Baff?" she asked hopefully. Buffy raised an eyebrow.
Before she could decide how to handle this new wrinkle, Willow's teary eyes peeked out from between her hands. "Baff," she murmured soggily.
Dawn was staring helplessly at Buffy, clearly waiting for instructions.
"All right," Buffy capitulated doubtfully. "Bath-time for everybody. Dawn, we're going to need T-shirts for them to sleep in. The smallest you've got. I'm aiming for B-E-D-time after the bath. Okay?"
Nodding violently, Dawn raced off up the stairs, clearly happy to have something concrete to do in the face of this new and bizarre Hellmouth situation.
Buffy gazed at the foursome before her in dismay. "I guess it's just the five of us, then, huh, guys?"
Face still streaked with tears, Xander smiled brightly. Buffy chuckled. They really were almost painfully cute.
Dawn steered clear of the bathroom, feeling vaguely guilty about deserting her sister. To compensate, she kept herself busy. Buffy's room had the closet that locked at the top, so that was where she decided to put the kids. The bed looked plenty big enough for the four of them.
Setting herself to the task of child-proofing the bedroom, she ducked into the basement and returned with two large boxes. Rapidly, she swept all of her sister's knickknacks, photos, and jewelry into the boxes, clearing every single surface in the room. She tucked the boxes into the closet, slid the latch home, and, in a moment of inspiration, locked the weapons chest in the corner, then pushed it out and into Willow and Tara's room. Couldn't be too safe, she figured.
Once the room was bare of kid-unfriendly stuff, she turned her attention to the bed. Shoving it into the corner, she managed to block off two sides of it, but she didn't know what to do about the other two. Finally, she pushed Buffy's desk against the foot of the bed, forming a sort of three-walled crib, and placed four pillows, longwise, along the bed, leaving the free side for their feet. There, she thought proudly, surveying the makeshift crib. At least none of them should be able to roll out of bed in their sleep.
She wasn't bad at this big-sister stuff. She didn't know what Buffy was always complaining about.
A splash and a wail sounded from the bathroom, and Dawn sighed. Maybe she should go help.
Cookies! she thought desperately. Casting an apologetic glance at the door to the bathroom, she headed for the kitchen to prepare a kid-friendly bedtime snack. That was helpful…right?
Buffy gazed around the bathroom in open dismay. Bath-time for four had been a disaster.
She had decided to bathe them two-by-two, starting with Xander and Anya. Unfortunately, Anya at age three was not unlike Anya at age 1,112, or however-the-hell old the ex-demon actually was. Every time Buffy's attention had turned to Xander, even for a moment, the little girl had splashed demandingly, covering the bathroom floor—and Buffy, herself—with water. Xander, meanwhile, had discovered bar soap. Slippery bar soap. Gleefully, he would clutch the bar of soap in both hands, watching it squirt out from between his little fingers with surprising force, then chase it around the bathtub on all fours, creating no small number of splashes, himself.
She didn't want to think about what would happen if he got hold of the shampoo.
By the time she'd finally gotten the two of them cleaned up, dressed in the flowing T-shirts Dawn had provided, and combed into some semblance of decency, Willow had changed her mind about wanting a bath. Which would have been fine, if Tara, for her part, hadn't discovered the toothpaste while Buffy's back was turned, and liberally applied it to Willow's head, streaking the red hair with long strands of gooey, greenish white.
After yelling for what felt like forever until Dawn finally showed up, she had turned over the two freshly-scrubbed children to her sister's care, and wrestled the miniature witches into the tub. Willow's ensuing temper tantrum had turned the bathroom from a garden-variety war zone into an actual flood, not to mention frightening little Tara until the small blonde had backed up hard enough to knock her head into the faucet.
Finally—finally—all four children were clean and dressed. Carrying a witch on either arm, Buffy deserted the bathroom, leaving the mess for later cleanup. Retreating to the kitchen, where Dawn had promised cookies and milk, Buffy breathed a sigh of relief.
Until she walked into the kitchen to find milk pouring all over the counter, dripping off onto the floor. Anya was enraged about something that remained unclear, and little Xander, his cup overturned in front of him, had buried his face in his arms on the countertop, crying piteously.
Dawn, clearly at her wit's end, was trying to simultaneously clean up the milk, comfort Xander, and calm Anya down.
Buffy sighed, settling Willow and a wide-eyed Tara onto the remaining two seats. Scooping Xander up into her arms, she settled herself on his chair, murmuring softly into his hair until he calmed down, curling his tiny body into hers in a way that made her heart throb with a sudden, fierce maternal ache.
The sound of the key turning in the front door had never been so welcome. Giles stumbled into the kitchen, arms laden with what appeared to be half of Wal-Mart.
He and Buffy gazed at one another incredulously for a moment, before demanding, in perfect unison, "What happened to you?"
Dawn giggled, a little hysterically, behind them.
Buffy surveyed herself with some surprise, only now realizing her resemblance to a drowned rat. "Bath-time for four," she explained ruefully, then pointed at Giles's multitude of bags. "What's all this?"
Giles's helpless look made her want to laugh out loud. "I panicked," he offered, setting the bags down on the floor. To his surprise, Willow slid off her stool, wandering over to stand at his feet. Surveying him very seriously for a moment, she finally cocked her head to one side.
"Up," she announced decidedly, holding up her arms.
Giles hesitated only for a moment, then bent and scooped the little redhead somewhat awkwardly into his arms. Willow graced him with a beatific smile, then laid her head trustingly against his shoulder.
Wide-eyed, Giles stared at Buffy. That funny ache throbbed again in her chest at the sight of the big man cuddling the tiny form against his chest, and to hide her sudden nervousness, she sprang into action, digging through the bags littering the floor at Giles's feet.
Something small and very fragile inside her broke as she opened the bags, surveying the proceeds of his panicked shopping spree. Two different sizes of diapers, four little tiny pairs of pajamas—three pink, one blue—and four little tippy cups stared back at her. The second bag revealed four little teddy bears, four little toothbrushes, a copy of The Lion King, a bottle of no-tears shampoo, and two storybooks.
A glance at the third bag made her laugh out loud.
"Giles," she exclaimed, delighted. "Is that a potty chair?"
Giles floundered for a moment, clearly embarrassed, and then drew himself up. "It's a training seat," he informed her with dignity. "I thought…it would be safer…"
The urge to hug him right then was overwhelming, so Buffy gave in to it, flinging her free arm around his waist and burying her face in his chest, giggling and blinking back tears all at once.
Giles had purchased a potty chair. Was there ever anything so adorable in the world?
She pulled back to see him gazing at her with an expression she couldn't quite read. Possibly aghast. The thought brought forth another slightly watery chuckle.
"I'm okay, Giles," she assured him, shifting Xander in her arms until he settled more comfortably on her hip. "It's all just a little…much, I think."
Still looking slightly bewildered, he studied her for a long moment, then nodded. "We'll figure this out, Buffy," he said comfortingly.
She smiled at him. "I know." Sighing, she turned, surveying the disaster in the kitchen. Dawn had pounced on the tippy cups the moment she saw them, gazing at Giles as though he might be a god. She was now pouring the milk into the new cups, setting them back up at the counter.
Buffy turned to Xander, who was still snuggled comfortably into her shoulder. "Do you want to finish your cookies, now?" she asked him gently. He nodded, then changed his mind and shook his head, burrowing further into her shoulder as he caught sight of Anya, who had been watching this entire exchange with interest.
"Giles," murmured Buffy, very softly. "Could you put Willow in the chair next to Anya?"
The older man had been watching her croon to the boy, an enigmatic expression on his face, but at her words, he nodded, situating Willow in Xander's vacated seat. For a moment, it looked like Willow might fight him on this, but the sight of Dawn setting two cookies on a napkin in front of her seemed to change her mind.
Buffy pointed at the seat next to Willow, clearly separated from his former girlfriend, and new nemesis. "Do you want to sit there?" she asked Xander, making sure he could see the cookies Dawn was setting out. He nodded warily, and she settled him into his seat.
"Can you watch them for a minute?" she asked Dawn.
Dawn blinked, and looked about to refuse, but a glance at the four suddenly-angelic little faces, all entirely absorbed with their cookies, apparently gave her strength. "Sure," she told Buffy, pausing before she added, "but hurry back."
Buffy nodded, dragging Giles into the living room, and narrowly missing stepping into Xander's little puddle. Oh, man, she'd forgotten about that. She mentally added the living room rug to her growing list of things to clean after they got the four little monsters into bed.
"Giles, what happened to them?" she asked helplessly, as soon as they were alone. "Oh," she added, with sudden realization, "and, y'know…hi. It's good to see you again."
Giles smiled, in spite of himself. "Hello to you, too, he murmured. "And it's lovely to see you again as well, although the circumstances are certainly…"
"Hellmouthy?" Buffy supplied wryly.
"I was going to say unique," he conceded. "But your interpretation is not entirely incorrect." He glanced over her shoulder at the doorway to the kitchen. "As to what happened to them, I must say, I have no idea. Did Willow do this?"
Buffy shook her head. "I don't think so—she was just waiting by the window. And if she did, I can't imagine what she was trying to do…besides, I think this came from…someone else."
She considered this. "More than one. At least three that I saw—maybe more. And there was the light—did you see the light?"
Giles nodded. "Did you see what these creatures looked like?"
Regretfully, Buffy shook her head. "I just saw shadows. I almost chased them, but I didn't know what they'd done, and I couldn't see the guys, and—"
"Buffy, it's all right," he assured her. "Even if you'd caught them, right now we don't know what we're dealing with. It's possible that if you had slain them, you could have locked your friends into this state forever. We need to know what we're facing, before we do anything."
"Do you know of any demons who—who...do this?"
He paused. "No," he eventually admitted. "But we do know what they've done. And we know they cast some sort of glowing blue light, and that they most likely move in packs. A little research, and we'll figure the rest out."
Guilt nagged at her. She hadn't forgotten what he'd said when he left. "I'm sorry you got dragged into this, Giles," she told him. "If you want to go back to England—"
"Buffy!" He stared at her, scandalized. "You can't think I'd actually leave you to deal with this?"
"I don't want you to think I'm…I'm dumping this on you—it's my problem, and—"
Giles sighed. "I needed you to learn to deal with life, Buffy. I didn't ever intend for you to feel like you couldn't call me when you needed genuine help."
She rolled her eyes. "This is my life," she said bluntly, smiling a little to take the edge off her words. "But I appreciate your help, Giles. Really."
He seemed flustered by her gratitude, and she realized sadly that she hadn't ever really shown it before. She'd have to find a way to thank him while he was here.
"Oh, god," she realized suddenly. "Patrol. What am I going to do about patrol?"
He raised an eyebrow. "You look dead on your feet," he informed her. "And not without reason. Missing one night of patrol won't hurt anything."
"I have to patrol," she objected. "The vamp numbers have been going up, and now there's this new thing out there—"
"Which you wouldn't recognize if you saw it," he pointed out, "and shouldn't fight if you did. Patrol if you must—Dawn and I can probably manage to put the children to bed—but don't hunt this thing. Let us research it first. The children are safe, for now, and a day or two won't hurt anything. I'd prefer to know what we're dealing with before we do something we regret."
Buffy nodded. "All right. I'm just going to take care of some last little things before I take off." She paused. "Thanks, Giles."
Ten minutes later, Giles left the kids with Dawn and slipped upstairs to find out what was taking Buffy so long. He found her in the bathroom, on her knees, wearily cleaning up the floor.
Immediately, guilt nagged at him. "Let me do this," he offered, picking up a towel. "You've got enough to worry about."
She smiled at him, but kept wiping. "I can do it," she assured him. "I'm not turning down any help, though."
Taking the hint, he knelt and began to wipe up a pile of what looked like toothpaste.
She had changed. He hadn't been gone long—less than a month—but something about her had changed. She seemed…older. There was still a sadness about her—which, he realized regretfully, would probably never go away—but there was something more, now. She was much more free with physical expressions of affection, for one thing—her spontaneous hug in the living room had astonished him—and Dawn had mentioned that Buffy had been doing much better about paying attention to her friends and family. The younger girl had also speculated that something had happened with Spike, who was hanging around more persistently than ever, but she couldn't say what. Only that Buffy seemed tired and sad when she looked at the platinum-haired vampire, and Dawn had once overheard her telling him she was "sorry for making him believe there was anything more," whatever that might mean.
"She works a lot," the younger girl had told him. When he had asked where, she had refused to say, merely wrinkling her nose in apparent disapproval. "But she's trying hard. She insists on spending all this time together, and going over my homework. Plus, she's totally anal about letting me go out anywhere—has to know where I'm going, and who will be there…" The teenager had rolled her eyes, but it had been clear she was secretly pleased. "I don't know how she finds time for it all," the younger woman had said absently. "Cleaning the house, working, patrolling—she must be tired."
Looking at Buffy now, he had to agree. She did seem tired, and not just from chasing four kids around for the last hour and a half. But she also seemed…competent.
Leaving, he thought sadly, had clearly been a good idea after all. She was better off now than he had ever seen her.
Buffy wandered, exhausted, into the living room. She pulled up short at the sight of Giles, asleep on the couch, sitting up. An open book lay in his lap, the towels they had used to clean the bathroom, now clean and neatly folded, all around. She smiled in spite of herself.
"Giles," she said quietly, shaking his shoulder a bit.
He made a groggy sound, and opened his eyes. "Buffy?" he asked sleepily. "How was patrol?"
"Three vamps," she told him quietly. "No big. Now, come on."
He looked around, blinking owlishly. "Where are we going?"
At his flush, she laughed. "To sleep, you big priss. Now, stop being such a girl and come to bed."
He hesitated. "I can sleep on the couch—"
She crossed her arms. "I have slept on this couch," she informed him sternly. "And no, you cannot. I'm not being nice, here—I need you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to help me with the Brat Pack in the morning. Fully clothed, Giles—I promise to keep my hands to myself. I'll sleep on top of the covers and everything. But you are coming to bed."
He seemed about to argue the issue, but just then, he shifted position and his back popped loudly. He winced, and gave in, allowing her to haul him to his feet, and following her wearily up the stairs.
In Willow's room, he fell onto the bed, sighing with relief. Buffy tugged the blankets up and over him, removing his glasses gently and placing them on the bedside table. Rolling her shoulders to stretch her aching muscles, she tiptoed down the hall to check on the kids. All sound asleep, looking adorably innocent. She smiled.
A quick peek into Dawn's room revealed her sister sleeping like the dead, clearly overcome by exhaustion of her own. Buffy wondered briefly how bedtime had gone, but was too tired, herself, to give it much thought.
Stumbling back to Willow's room, Buffy collapsed next to her Watcher, on top of the covers, as promised. Within moments, she was sound asleep.
The scream woke her instantly. It took only a moment to remember where she was, and when she did, she flushed hotly. There was no time for embarrassment, however—she was on her feet and in motion less than an instant after waking up. Giles was hot on her heels, and Buffy flushed again. So, her Watcher was a closet snuggler, huh? She filed the thought away for future contemplation.
They hit the doorway pretty much simultaneously, bursting into Buffy's room in a rush. It took only a moment for Buffy to do a sweeping check of the room, but nothing seemed amiss.
It looked like one of the children must have had a nightmare, although at this point it was impossible to tell which. All four children were sitting up, sobbing pitifully, and reaching for Buffy and Giles.
Buffy took Xander and Tara, Giles took Willow and Anya. Settling themselves onto the bed with the children, they cuddled and comforted as best they could. Tara quieted immediately, with little more than a hug and a snuggle, but the other three seemed to need more convincing.
Giles shot Buffy one embarrassed glance—and then began to sing.
Instantly, all four children were enraptured. So was Buffy.
Wow. She'd never actually heard him sing before—there was that time that crazy demon had turned Sunnydale in to Real World: Broadway, but she'd been a little too freaked out to pay much attention at the time.
Giles had an incredible voice. Warm, husky…sexy.
Buffy flushed again. She'd been aware for some time that her feelings for her Watcher were probably not what you might call Council-approved, but this was just unfair. How was a girl supposed to be remain calm and detached, while her stuffy British Watcher cradled a pair of babies in his arms, crooning old English lullabies in that rich tenor voice?
She laid her head back against the wall, allowing herself to drift into semi-consciousness, as the mellow notes washed over her.
This could be a problem.
Dawn stood in the open doorway to her sister's room, torn between laughter and a strange urge to cry. The sight before her was priceless.
Giles and Buffy were asleep, sitting up, in the bed. Buffy's head rested on Giles's shoulder, his head resting against hers. All around them, sleeping babies curled trustingly against their bodies, clutching teddy bears and strong arms, as if for comfort.
Silently, Dawn slipped down to the kitchen, digging around until she emerged with a disposable camera. Creeping back up the stairs, she snapped the picture quickly, tucking the camera out of sight as Buffy's eyes fluttered open.
"Hey," her sister whispered, trying not to move.
Giles sighed and shifted, opening his own eyes and blinking in momentary confusion. He and Buffy glanced at one another somewhat sheepishly, and the effect was so cute, Dawn wished she could take a picture of that, too.
Man, how had she missed this?
Her thoughts were racing as Watcher and Slayer attempted to extract themselves from the nest of sleeping children without waking them up. Once they were free, they stepped out into the hallway, shutting the door quietly behind them. Neither noticed Dawn tucking the camera swiftly into her pocket and out of sight.
"Coffee," Buffy ground out, looking pleadingly at Dawn.
"Already made," Dawn assured her, laughing. At this, Buffy actually hugged her, nearly throwing Dawn off-balance in the process.
"I love you," the Slayer announced earnestly.
"Tea, too," Dawn felt compelled to add, noticing Giles's crestfallen face. For a startling moment, she thought he might attack her, as well, but he seemed to get control of himself, settling for a look so grateful, she had to laugh again.
"You can have the first shower, if you want," Buffy offered, looking at the older man.
He objected instantly. "Not at all," he insisted, a gentleman to the core. "Ladies first."
"Ah," Buffy retorted. "But you have to go to work today, whereas I am calling in sick."
For a moment, Giles seemed baffled. "Work?" he finally inquired.
"The Magic Shop," the Slayer elaborated. "Anya would kill us if we didn't at least try to keep business going—and besides, you need to research this demon-thing, and I have a feeling not much research is going to get done around here."
"I can't just leave you here to do this alone!"
"Which is only one of the many reasons you're such a great guy." Buffy's declaration surprised Dawn, and it appeared to surprise Giles, as well. Her sister wasn't usually so effusive. Maybe she was actually coming around. "But yes, you can. And you will—you know we'll get nothing done if we both hang around here."
"Besides," Dawn offered, before the situation dissolved into a full-fledged argument, "I'll stay home today and help out."
Buffy didn't bat an eye. "The hell you will," she told her sister firmly. "You will go to school, and Giles will go to work, and you will both at least pretend that you think I can handle this." She sniffed. "I am the Slayer. I fight vampires and demons every night of my life. I have averted the apocalypse—many times, I might add—and defeated master vampires, hellgods, demon-robot hybrids, and evil masterminds of all shapes and sizes. I think I can handle eight hours alone with a few small children." Raising her chin stubbornly, she set off for the stairs. "Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to have some coffee."